Nepal and Japan are all set to sign a revised bilateral air services agreement (ASA) on Monday, as part of the preparatory works to re-launch flights to the ‘land of the rising sun’ after a 10-year long wait.
The move to amend the two-and-a-half-decade-old ASA follows the national flag carrier Nepal Airlines plan to spread its wings to Japan. Nepal Airlines wants to start services to Japan after receiving two long-range Airbus A330 jets due to be delivered on June 27.
A two-member delegation led by Tourism Ministry Secretary Krishna Prasad Devkota flew to Tokyo, Japan on Saturday to hold a negotiation on revising the ASA. The delegation is likely to sign the revised ASA on Monday.
According to tourism ministry officials, the Japanese side has proposed granting seven weekly flights while Nepal has asked for 14 weekly flights.
“The flight frequency will depend on how Nepal will negotiate on the matter,” said the officials. Besides, there are also issues regarding landing rights at Japan’s airports. NAC had wanted to begin services to Tokyo, but the ASA between Nepal and Japan only allows it to fly to Kansai International Airport in Osaka. On February 26, NAC invited proposals from potential ground handling service providers at Kansai.
The Tourism Ministry moved to revise the ASA with Japan to permit Nepali carriers to fly to other Japanese cities. Apart from Nepal Airlines, several private carriers like Buddha Air have plans to serve Japan to bring high-end tourists to Nepal in the near future.
During an initial discussion, Japan had said it was ready to provide landing rights to Nepali carriers at all airports except Haneda Airport in Tokyo due to congestion.
Haneda Airport, the busiest airport by passenger traffic in Japan, is the fifth busiest airport in the world. Haneda is more desirable because it is just 15 km from Tokyo, compared to some 65 km for Narita International Airport.
Nepal and Japan signed the ASA on February 17, 1993 allocating 400 weekly seats. The national flag carrier used to fly to Osaka via Shanghai until 2008, when it was forced to suspend the route due to lack of aircraft.
A Nepal Air Traffic Analysis conducted by Airbus in 2015 forecasts a traffic growth of 77 percent in five years from nearly 48,000 one-way travellers from Japan to Nepal. Narita International Airport and Kansai International Airport account for 68 percent of the traffic from Japan to Nepal. The country received 27,326 Japanese tourists last year.
Since 1963, Nepal has signed bilateral ASAs with 38 countries, with New Zealand and Vietnam being the latest countries. This provides 6 million seats per annum to and from Nepal. However, less than 40 percent of this capacity is being utilised. Presently, 29 international airlines are operating flights from Kathmandu to 22 cities in Asia and Europe.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of Nepalis living in Japan has swelled to more than 60,000 compared to only 31,531 at the end of 2013. Nepali community is the fifth largest foreign community in Japan. As the 2020 Olympic Games approaches, Japan will be an attractive destination for Nepalis, with the number of Nepali in Japan likely to grow substantially in coming years, the ministry said. Every year, over 10,000.
Nepali students go to Japan to pursue higher studies and Japanese language. Japan is the 2nd most preferred destination for Nepali students looking to study abroad, the ministry said.