After six months of isolation, Nepal relaxed some border restrictions last week. The small country high in the mountains between India and China is now letting in 800 people a day. That’s seen airlines start to touch down again at Katmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. Leading the pack is China Southern Airlines, which has already resumed a weekly Guangzhou-Kathmandu-Guangzhou service.
Nepal is allowing a select few airlines to bring its people home
Nepal began allowing regular international airline services from September 1. Before that, the country was closed off to international flights. Local carrier Nepal Airlines had operated a handful of repatriation flights from the Middle East to get Nepali’s home. And while Nepal so far is only welcoming Nepalis, diplomats, aid agency officials, and their families back, it’s a step forward and a tentative move towards normality.
Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport typically handles nearly 125,000 flight movements and over seven million passengers a year. Approximately 35 airlines jet in from 40 airports in 17 countries. Earlier this year, with Nepal’s Government having suspended all domestic and international flights in addition to closing land crossings, airline and passenger traffic at Katmandu’s airport crashed.
That will improve now Nepal is allowing certain airlines from selected countries to fly in. Getting the tick of approval are airlines from countries with a decent COVID-19 testing regime and easy access to testing. So far, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Oman Air, flydubai, Malaysia Airlines, Korean Air, Dragon Air, China Southern, and Air China are all scheduling flights back to Katmandu.
China Southern’s service to Katmandu resumed on the weekend. Arrivals will need to quarantine for seven days at home if Nepali citizens or 14 days in a hotel if foreigners. To avoid overburdening the country’s health system, daily arrival numbers will get capped. Across September, one foreign aircraft is coming in per day. Today, it’s Qatar Airways turn. Tomorrow, it’s flydubai.
Local airlines start flying again
In addition to the international airlines, the local carriers are resuming some international flights. Last week, Nepal Airlines headed off to Narita. Over the weekend, the airline flew a return trip to Dubai. Today, Nepal Airlines is heading to Kuala Lumpur. Across September, there are Nepal Airlines flights to Hong Kong, Dubai, Narita, and Kuala Lumpur. In addition, Nepal Airlines is operating 11 repatriation flights over September. These charter flights will pick up passengers from Jeddah, Amman, Doha, Kuwait, and Riyadh.
Local private carrier Himalaya Airlines is also operating several flights this month. Himalaya Airlines is flying regular passenger services to Kuala Lumpur, Abu Dhabi, and Chongquing. The airline is also running some charter repatriation flights from Doha, the Maldives, Amman, and Kuwait.
All up, 57 regular international flights and 27 chartered international flights will land in Katmandu over September. Passengers will need a negative COVID-19 status. Proof of that and the test having taken place within 72 hours of flying is required. It’s a long way from the traffic numbers in 2019, but it is better than last month and a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, domestic flying within Nepal and land border crossings remain shut down.
Nepal is yet to decide on international flights continuing beyond September 30. It will do so a little down the track as the COVID-19 situation evolves, and the country sees what 800 people coming in every day brings.