India and China have shown flexibility in allowing Nepal to use the Himalaya 2 air route that connects Kathmandu with Bagdogra, Guwahati, Silchar, Imphal and Kunming.
As per the letter of agreement (LOA) on air routes signed between China and India in September 2009 and ATS coordination procedures, Nepal has been permitted to use this airspace (excluding military bases) over India. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has been reviewing Nepal’s proposal.
“However, a bilateral memorandum of understanding on a specific airspace is yet to be signed between Nepal and India, and concurrence from Indian defence authorities is in progress,” said Ram Prasad Neupane, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN).
With regard to permission from the Chinese side, Nepal’s proposal is being reviewed. “Further process will begin after a government-to-government deal,” Neupane said. Apart from the ongoing development on the Himalaya 2 route, CAAN is also in the process of finalizing the Kathmandu-Lhasa B345 route up to Beijing and Shanghai in the context of signing a letter of agreement with China on ATS coordination procedures.
If the route is opened, it will be the shortest route to China and the Far East and to the Middle East and Europe from Nepal and the Indian subcontinent. The air distance from Kathmandu to Hong Kong will also be reduced.
The existing route via Bangladesh is 1,770 nautical miles while the proposed route via Imphal is 1,669 nautical miles. The distance can be further reduced by 35 nautical miles if direct routing from Kathmandu to Kunming can be done, said CAAN. According to CAAN, Nepal has proposed three air routes—Himalaya 1 (Bangkok-Kolkata-Nepalgunj-Indek in Pakistan), Himalaya 2 and Himalaya 3—at different ICAO meetings and other forums. Among them, the most beneficial route is Himalaya 2, but it is one which requires much effort by Nepal to get India and China to agree.
“We admit that there are several issues regarding defence and technical barriers in China. However, China is moving towards a liberal aviation economy, which could be positive for Nepal as well,” Neupane said. The government should deal through diplomatic channels to make it happen, he added.
The L626 route that links Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-Pantanagar-Delhi has been operational since November 2009. It took nearly seven years for the airway to be opened. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has kept the Himalaya 2 airspace as a future requirement. Implementation of this airspace will allow international airlines to fly over Nepali airspace, which means savings in fuel and distance for carriers flying this route and revenue for Nepal.
CAAN expects that Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Nepal Airlines, Dragon Air, China Southern and Air Hong Kong among other international carriers will be direct beneficiaries.
“We have raised the implementation of Himalaya 2 at many international forums at different times. IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization has appreciated the proposal and assured us their fullest cooperation in its implementation,” said Neupane. Moreover, implementation of the route will help environment protection with less carbon emission. Rising fuel costs, increasing air traffic congestion and increased emissions are growing concerns in international air transport presently, said Neupane. These routes will reduce congestion of westbound traffic flows across the Bay of Bengal.
CAAN officials said that access to international airspace would give Nepal a huge opportunity to develop as a hub like India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in South Asia. According to them, international air accessibility had changed the face of Southeast Asia over the period 1979-97. The proposed route could establish Nepal as an international transit point. The second international airport that the government has planned to construct in Nijgadh would be the greatest beneficiary.
For the past several years, Nepal has been focusing on promulgation of international routes across the Himalaya to establish an air corridor across a considerable part of Nepali airspace.