Nepal is once again planning to prod India to commence operation of the proposed cross-border air routes, putting the issue that was in the back-burner for nearly five years back into the spotlight, The Kathmandu Post reports.
According to the report, Nepal had pushed India to formally open the new cross-border air routes via Janakpur, Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj and Mahendranagar during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kathmandu in 2014. The new air routes would facilitate movement of international flights to proposed international airports in Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Nijgadh.
The issue on new air routes is being revisited, as the Indian premier is visiting Nepal again on May 11.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a meeting with concerned stakeholders to discuss agendas that Nepal plans to raise during Modi’s visit. “The air route issue was one of the key agendas raised during Sunday’s meeting,” Pramod Nepal, under-secretary at the Tourism Ministry, said without elaborating details.
The airspace agenda was endorsed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal in August 2014. A joint communiqué issued by the two countries at the end of the visit said: “The cross-border direct routes will facilitate flights between regional airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa, and this will save time and money for air travellers and also improve air connectivity between India and Nepal.”
Subsequently, prime ministers of the two countries directed authorities concerned to meet in the next six months to resolve the issue. Based on this instruction, Nepal and India agreed to make Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-Delhi (L626) route bi-directional or two-way in 2016. But it is yet to be implemented.
“There has been no progress on this front in the last five years,” an official of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) on condition of anonymity said.
CAAN’s senior officials said the Indian side has expressed reservations over opening of the airspace in Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj due to the presence of its defence base in Gorakhpur. The defence base is spread over huge swathes of land, where fighter jet exercises are conducted regularly.
However, they have hinted at opening some sections of the airspace over Nepalgunj.
Nepal has been pushing the agenda of expanding cross-border air routes for the last nine years, as there is only a single entry point in Simara for most of the airlines flying to the country. In contrast, there are seven exit points—Bhairahawa and Mahendranagar in the west and Simara, Biratnagar, Tumlingtar, Kakkarbhitta and Janakpur in the east—for aircraft flying out of Nepal.
Besides Simara, two other entry points over Mechi and Tumlingtar (Nonim which is in the east of Mt Everest) have been specially designated for planes coming from Bhutan and Lhasa, respectively. But the entry point in Simara is used by majority of aircraft flying to Nepal and is therefore congested most of the time.