Nepal has rejected India’s ‘open sky’ offer to allow unlimited flights between the two countries at a meeting held here on December 20, senior officials of the Civil Aviation Ministry said.
Nepal said it was not yet ready for the agreement. India has been keen on countering Nepal’s recent engagement with China on the road, railways and port connectivity. “Nepal said it was not yet ready for the ‘open-sky’ agreement and it might consider the proposal two years later,” said a senior official of the Ministry. Airlines from India and Nepal are now allowed to operate 30,000 seats from each side.
The official said India and Nepal signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a joint technical committee to examine Nepal’s request for developing new air routes and air entry points at Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj. “The committee will meet in the first week of February to examine the feasibility of the proposed routes,” he said.
The latest development comes days after India signed an agreement with Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Guyana, Czech Republic, Finland and Spain to allow airlines to operate unlimited flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
Nepal has long been pushing for new airspaces to ease congestion on the existing routes and to save time and cost for air passengers.
“Nepal is building a major international airport at Bhairwaha, near the Uttar Pradesh border, and the airport at Pokhara will soon be brought to international standards. Therefore, we believe India and Nepal should give each more access to the other’s skies and move with the times,” Nepal’s Ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay told The Hindu .
The issue of increased air service and additional routes was part of the joint statement issued during the visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda.’ In it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said India’s initiatives for ‘open sky’ and cross-border connectivity “would directly benefit Nepal and help strengthen our economic partnership.”
Under the National Civil Aviation Policy, approved by the Union Cabinet earlier this year, India intends to enter into ‘open-sky’ agreements with SAARC countries and with those beyond the 5,000-km radius from Delhi.
Countries sign air services agreements (ASAs) through bilateral negotiations to decide the number of flights airlines can fly. Under the ‘open-sky’ agreement, there is no restriction on flights or seats.
Among SAARC countries, India doesn’t have any ‘open sky’ agreement with Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. It allows unlimited flights from Bangladesh and Maldives at 18 domestic airports, from Sri Lanka at 23 airports, and from Bhutan at all its airports.
( With Kallol