At a time when most airlines around the world are folding, and Nepal’s own carriers struggle to stay airborne, Buddha Air has not just survived the crisis but is expanding. It is adding two more ATR-72 aircraft when others are selling or mothballing their planes.
This is driven by a spurt in domestic traffic when flights resumed last September. A combination of low fuel costs and a fear of travelling by bus convinced many to fly. Forced to tighten their belts, airlines have also reduced overheads so cheaper fares are possible for middle-class Nepalis. Trunk routes, including between Kathmandu and Pokhara are packed with domestic tourists. Nepalis are flying where they had not flown before, like on Mt Everest sightseeing flights which used to be mainly for international tourists. Innovative strategies like buy-one-get-one-free to use aisle seats have meant that the weekend mountain viewing flights are full.
Nepali Times spoke to Buddha Air founder Birendra Bahadur Basnet about the lessons of the pandemic and his future plans.
Nepali Times: How did Buddha Air tide over the Covid-19 crisis?
Birendra Bahadur Basnet: From our very inception 23 years ago, we were very focussed on prudent fiscal discipline that helped us ride out the pandemic and to survive the worst crisis in the 100 years of global aviation history.
During the pandemic, our overdraft hit the sky, we had maintenance and insurance costs despite the lack of revenue. We tried to manage cash flow the best we could, and put salaries in staff accounts. We encouraged team spirit, and collective ownership of the airline by all our 1,100 staff. This gave us the strength to survive and grow. Every crisis creates an opportunity, and we created our own opportunity. The last two months were the most difficult. We brought everyone down to a basic salary. We decided that everybody has to contribute for the survival of the company. But after the flights started on 21 September, we immediately went into recovery mode, and could start paying full salaries again, so we are now back in a normal situation.