US, Australia interested in signing ASAs with Nepal

Nepal is mulling signing air service agreements (ASAs) with the US and Australia after the two countries evinced interest to establish air links with Nepal. The government is also planning to revise the ASA with the UK, a government official said.

The US and Australia had sent proposals to the government to sign ASAs around four months ago, said Suresh Acharya, joint secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA).

Although talks with the US have not been scheduled, an MoTCA official said that Australia had sent a draft of the proposed ASA and discussions would be held with it soon. “We will schedule a meeting on the ASA with the US after discussing the matter with the concerned stakeholders here,” Acharya said.

The US and Australia have proposed signing ASAs under the “open skies” policy. This international policy advocates liberalisation of rules and regulations on the international aviation industry, particularly minimising government intervention.

The policy means no restrictions on international route rights, the number of designated airlines, capacity, frequency and types of aircraft. Nepal currently has a “liberal sky” policy adopted in 1992. It allows the state to impose certain restrictions for its interests.

However, MoTCA officials and its line agency the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) said that the Aviation Policy 2006 had envisaged adopting an open skies policy gradually. “We are gradually moving towards an open skies policy,” Acharya added.

According to senior CAAN officials, the Aviation Policy 2006 had envisioned adopting an open skies policy gradually, however, a number of complications have prevented it from happening. A recent example is the directive of the parliamentary International Relation and Human Rights Committee preventing Air Arabia from exercising its Fifth Freedom right on the Kathmandu-Kuala Lumpur sector. Officials said the House committee’s directive was a violation of the ASA with the United Arab Emirates as it allows such rights.

US interest to sign an ASA with Nepal comes with the improved peace and stability in the country. The US Department of State has recently removed Nepal from its negative travel advisory, citing improved political conditions. “With the political condition improving in Nepal, more American tourists want to come to Nepal.” According to Nepal Tourism Board stats, the number of US tourists visiting Nepal in 2011 amounted to 37,832, up 14.1 percent from 2010.

Resumption of the US global volunteer programme, the Peace Corps, is another reason. The Peace Corps suspended operations in Nepal in September 2004 citing security reasons during the Maoist insurgency.

Similarly, tourist arrivals from Australia amounted 16,105 in 2011, up 13.3 percent. Apart from rising visitor arrivals, the two countries have become major study destinations for Nepalis. At present, Nepal has ASAs with 36 countries. The latest one was signed with Turkey. “The Nepali aviation market has witnessed unprecedented growth in both passenger and flight numbers in the last three years, and the interest of the US and Australia to connect Nepal has been encouraging for Nepal,” said CAAN director general Tri Ratna Manandhar.

Meanwhile, the UK has asked for a third-party code-sharing agreement in the upcoming review of the ASA. It was previously reviewed in 2000. No carriers from the UK have operated flights to Nepal.

Currently, there are 26 international airlines serving Nepal against nine in 1991. International passenger movement has increased to 2,436,558 in 2010 from 780,933 in 1991. “The country’s aviation infrastructure has not improved to match the growth, and the government should give priority to this fastest growing market,” Manandhar added. (Source:ekantipur)

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