The Australia / Nepal Air Services Agreement – Folly Or The Future?

australia-nepal-air-services-agreement Photo: N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week Australia and Nepal signed an air service agreement to operate direct flights between the two countries. It struck me as a bureaucratic folly as there are no direct flights between Australia and Nepal. Never has been. And there’s not even the faintest murmur of anything on the distant horizon.

But then I kept reading and learned a few interesting things.

But first, the nuts and bolts of the air services agreement. The agreement allows Nepalese airlines to fly up to seven flights per week between Kathmandu and Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra (?) and Perth. There are unlimited flights available to other airports such as Brisbane and Adelaide. There are limited fifth freedom rights available and third country code sharing agreements are allowed.

In return Australian airlines are allowed up to seven flights a week into Kathmandu and up to twenty eight services a week to other airports in Nepal. They too get fifth freedom rights and access to code share agreements.

This all seems a bit pointless given there’s no prospect of any airlines operating direct flights between the two countries. Local Nepali carrier Nepal Air doesn’t even have aircraft capable of flying nonstop to Australia, although following last week’s signing they did express interest in flying to Australia via a code share agreement with another airline.

The prospects of an Australian carrier flying into Nepal anytime soon is less than zero.

Which is interesting as a few statistics emerged following the signing. Sydney-Kathmandu is Sydney’s largest unserviced route. Some 93,000 people fly the route annually. All have to transit somewhere. Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said that’s enough people to fill a medium sized aircraft flying five days a week for a year.

Not only is there a steady (and increasing) stream of Australian tourists visiting Nepal each year, Nepal is Australia’s third largest source of international students after China and India.

So there’s enough traffic to warrant some interest. GIven Nepal Airlines doesn’t have the capability to operate the route, a remaining option is Qantas. For years Qantas has neglected this part of the world. It doesn’t even fly into India. And given that the majority of the traffic between Australia and Nepal are budget conscious tourists and students, the likelihood of Qantas showing much interest in the route is remote.

Something for Jetstar to think about maybe.