The national flag carriers of Nepal and India have increased the number of weekly flights from two at present to six on the Kathmandu-Delhi route under the air bubble arrangement between the two countries, a media report quoted Nepal's civil aviation body as saying. Currently, the services remain capped due to an air bubble arrangement between Nepal and India that allows one weekly flight in either direction amidst the travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been an increase in demand for tickets with an exponential rise in the number of outbound passengers from Kathmandu, mostly travelling for medical treatment, and passengers have been scrambling to get tickets on the route, the busiest and the most lucrative one for the airlines. Raj Kumar Chettri, the spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, told the Kathmandu Post on Sunday that Nepal Airlines and Air India have been permitted to operate three flights a week each and will be effective from Monday.
While, as per the approved schedule, Air India will operate flights on the sector on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, while Nepal Airlines, which operates services every Wednesday, is yet to get the slot approval from India's civil aviation regulator, the report said. In December last year, Nepal and India entered into an air bubble agreement, a dedicated flight service between the two countries following strict health and safety protocols set by the authorities of the respective countries.
Both carriersNepal Airlines and Air Indiaapplied to raise their frequencies on Sunday after the government decided to increase the frequencies in the sector. We have approved their operating permits accordingly, said Chettri. However, according to Chettri, under the air bubble arrangement, other airlines in India are still restricted to operate on the Kathmandu-New Delhi route. India's low-cost carrier IndiGo and startup carrier Vistara have also applied to operate in Nepal.
Demand for tickets on the Kathmandu-Delhi route has been going off the charts, and airfares have been soaring due to the limited frequencies, the report said. Travel agencies have reported that the price of a seat on a flight to Delhi has reached Rs 50,000, almost six times the normal cost because flights between the two neighbours have not been increased despite a massive surge in travel demand.
Flight frequencies on other international sectors have returned to near-normal levels, the report said. Dim Prasad Poudel, managing director of Nepal Airlines, said they would immediately apply for the slot at Delhi airport once they receive the approval letter from the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority.
Shyam Raj Thapaliya, managing director of Osho World Nepal, one of the leading travel agencies in Nepal, said as most of the embassies based in Kathmandu have started issuing visas from New Delhi, travellers have to go to the Indian capital to get their entry permits, resulting in a travel rush. Many Nepalis are also travelling to Delhi for medical treatment, he said.
On April 29, the Nepal government announced a second lockdown. It restricted domestic flights from midnight of May 3 and international flights from midnight of May 6 as the second wave of COVID-19 gripped the country. While all international scheduled flights connecting Kathmandu have been ordered to halt, the government decided to continue with the two flights a week on the Kathmandu-Delhi route.