Although Nepal’s national airlines have been able to attract historically high passenger numbers, international airlines, to and from Kathmandu, carried 65% fewer passengers last year than in 2019.
According to statistics from Tribhuvan International Airport, 1.44 million international travelers passed through Kathmandu Airport last year, a drop of 65.11% from 2019 figures. This translates to a loss of 2.69 million passengers.
Aircraft movements also fell to their lowest level in 15 years with 11,760 take-offs and landings, a sharp drop of 63.74% from 2019 figures.
This is based on reports from 28 carriers, including charter flights, as countries imposed severe travel restrictions last year in a bid to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
A second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hit Nepal in April 2021. It pushed the country’s health system to the brink of collapse, leaving it in dire need of medical supplies.
Airlines officials say domestic carriers braved Covid-19 as the industry saw a record 3.5 million passengers for the first time in history.
But in the international sector, the low number of tourist arrivals and the reduced number of migrant workers leaving for work destinations contribute to the low volume of passengers.
“International traffic improved slightly last year compared to 2020, but it remained well below 2019 levels,” said Deo Chandra Lal Karn, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority. from Nepal. “Based on current developments, the outlook for 2022 does not look good either. “
Airlines now face a new challenge as more countries report cases of the Omicron variant.
“Nepal may soon impose a rule to provide proof of being vaccinated against the coronavirus. This could have an additional impact on air travel, ”Karna said.
Statistics show that international passenger traffic at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport in 2021 fell to its lowest level since 2006, illustrating the devastating impact of Covid-19 on air travel.
In 2021, the coronavirus situation turned from bad to worse with daily cases peaking at 9,317 cases on May 11.
With many businesses affected by Covid-19 for two years in a row, tens of thousands of employees have been made redundant, put on leave or faced with pay cuts.
Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority reported that the aviation industry suffered losses amounting to Rs 37 billion from the time the first lockdown was enforced on March 24, 2020, to June 1, 2021.
Of the total estimated losses, national airlines suffered losses amounting to Rs25 billion, followed by the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority with Rs12 billion. According to the report, Nepal Airlines suffered losses of Rs 7 billion while the private international carrier Himalaya Airlines lost Rs 3 billion.
The government had restricted domestic flights from May 3 and international flights from May 6 as the second wave of Covid-19 gripped the country. Nepal resumed international commercial flights on June 24 and domestic flights with restrictions from July 1.
A breakdown by airline shows that Doha-based Qatar Airways recorded the highest number of passengers carried in 2021 despite a 34.30% drop in passenger numbers from pre-Covid levels. The carrier carried 303,556 passengers.
Nepal Airlines has slipped to second place in terms of passenger transport following a massive drop in passenger numbers. The national carrier saw its passenger count drop 61.27% to 284,961 last year from 2019 figures.
Nepalese private carrier Himalaya Airlines saw its passenger count increase to 255,678, up 44.94% last year from 2019.
“While we added an A319 to our fleet in February 2020, our capacity has increased by a third. The increase in the number of passengers is due to the expansion of the fleet, ”said Vijay Shrestha, vice president of Himalaya Airlines.
According to Shrestha, it would take a few years for the number of travelers to rebound to 2019 levels. “Maybe the recovery will go beyond 2024,” he said. “Omicron has made everything uncertain.”
Dubai-based low-cost carrier FlyDubai saw its passenger transport drop 45.28% from 2019 data, but still managed to maintain its place in the top four. The airline carried 150,291 passengers in 2021.
Another low-cost carrier, Air Arabia, carried 99,795 passengers last year, down 56.40% from 2019.
Indian airline Air India recorded the largest drop in passengers. The airline carried 69,966 passengers in 2021, down 72.56% from 2019.
Jazeera Airways, Kuwait’s first low-cost airline, which operated its first flight in November 2019, carried 68,692 travelers in 2021.
In 2021, the Indian low-cost company Indigo Air and the Chinese companies Sichuan Airlines and China Eastern did not operate any flights in 2021. Likewise, Thai Airways did not make a single flight to Kathmandu last year either. .
Four Chinese airlines – China Southern Airlines, Air China, Sichuan Airlines and China Eastern – which operated more than 4,000 flights per year to Kathmandu from various Chinese cities operated only 200 flights in 2021. In April, the airlines Chinese have suspended flights to Nepal, which have not yet resumed. .
In December 2020, Nepal and India reached an agreement on air bubbles, a dedicated flight service between the two countries following strict health and safety protocols defined by the authorities of the respective countries.