Turkish Airlines will soon resume daily flights on the Kathmandu-Istanbul sector for the first time since the April 2015 earthquake, indicating that tourist traffic is on the rebound three years after the disaster.
The only European airline to fly to Kathmandu currently operates five flights a week, and will fly every day from 24 September, during the forthcoming autumn and spring peak tourist seasons.
After 2 September 2019, the flights will be daily all year round to mark the 6th anniversary of start of Turkish Airlines flights to Kathmandu, and to cater to the growth in passenger volume during Visit Nepal Year 2020.
“Nepal has set the target of 2 million tourists by 2020, and to accommodate the expected volume, we are increasing our number of flights in phases,” explains Country Manager Abdullah Tuncer Kececi (pictured). “With introduction of daily flights, we hope to fulfill tourist demand for travel facilities.”
The daily flights will operate as per the current summer schedule: arriving at 6:20AM from Istanbul and departing from Kathmandu at 7:35AM. However, the schedule will revert to winter timings with arrival in Kathmandu at 11:30AM.
Turkish says the increase in frequency shows robust growth in passenger volume of tourists, Nepali diaspora and students travelling to and from Europe and America via Istanbul. From August of 2017 to 2018, Turkish Airlines carried 110,000 passengers on its Kathmandu-Istanbul sector, and 90% were transit passengers.
This year, the airlines has introduced a special student fare, with 10kg extra luggage, and a free one-time flight change offer. The airlines is also offering stopovers for transit passengers, and hopes that traffic to Istanbul will get a boost after its brand new airport is inaugurated on 29 October.
However, there are challenges. Kathmandu airport management is planning to close the airport for 10 hours a day for urgent runway repairs and this will add to congestion that is already delaying many international flights.
“It would be advisable for the airport to open at 5:00AM for domestic flights so that peak morning congestion does not delay international arrivals,” Kececi told Nepali Times.
Tribhuvan Airport has announced that it will open the airport 30 min earlier at 6AM for domestic flights from 1 September.
“The increased costs from long holds are a burden, and this is in addition to high fuel costs and ground handling charges in Kathmandu,” Kececi said, “we are excited about the increase in traffic, but there are obstacles that need to be overcome.”
With just a year and half to go for Nepal tourism year, the growing number of flights and passengers is an indication that Nepal’s tourism industry and economy are springing back after the disaster.
However, it is clear that for Turkish and other international airlines serving Kathmandu, infrastructure bottlenecks are a concern.
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