Nepal Airlines Corporation's (NAC) new aircraft 'Sagarmatha' landed here today at 4.31 evening amid a huge fanfare at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). The aircraft with the call sign 9N-AKW was welcomed by water cannon salute, traditional music and dance.
As the aircraft neared the hanger, the crowd – including European diplomats, NAC and CAAN staff – cheered, a Pandit chanted Sanskrit mantras and the cameras started flashing..
After Tourism and Civil Aviation minister Deepak Chandra Amatya-led team of 18 – including NAC chair Shiva Sharan Neupane, managing director Madan Kharel and engineers from NAC and Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) – got off the aircraft, they also received a grand applause.
The Airbus A320-200 aircraft yesterday started its maiden flight from the Airbus plant in Hamburg of Germany and landed at Kathmandu today after a stopover in the Qatari Capital Doha for over a night.
The first of the two Airbus – purchased by the NAC from French Airbus Company – has 158-seat with eight seats in business class. It was flown into Kathmandu by Airbus pilot and Captain Shrawan Rijal.
NAC had sent six pilots for necessary training and orientation to fly the Airbus – as they have been flying Boeings 757 for last more than two-and-ahalf-decade – to France. But three of them returned without completing the training, and Captain Rijal and RP Dhakal are still under orientation. They need to complete 50 hours of flight before taking a complete charge by themselves, he added. "The corporation will train more captains and co-pilots."
The second Airbus will arrive within April, he informed.
"The arrival of the new aircraft will help the ailing national flag carrier add new international routes," he said, adding that the first destination of the aircraft will be New Delhi on February 25.
The corporation had cancelled flights to New Delhi – the most profitable sector – and Dubai after one of its two ageing Boeing 757s – Gandaki and Karnali acquired in 1987 and 1988 – started facing regular technical glitch.
Currently, Nepal Airlines operates flights to only four international destinations – Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Hong Kong sectors – with the two age-old Boeings. Due to lack of aircraft, the corporation has been fast losing its international market share that plunged to less than 3 per cent.
"We are hopeful that the arrival of the new aircraft will help increase NAC's market share," he said, adding that the corporation has already unveiled a 10-year plan hoping to restore our lost glory. "In the second phase, NAC plans to start flights to Guangzhou, Dubai, Mumbai and Bangalore."
Currently, some 28 international airlines fly to Kathmandu but still Kathmandu is expensive destination for foreigners shying them away to cheaper destinations. "The new addition will also help NAC enhance both its service delivery and competence level," he added. "We aim to add more aircraft to our international fleet in the future,” Kharel said, indicating to the corporation’s plan to purchase even a wide-body aircraft in the future.
Likewise, Airbus’s vice-president for customer affairs David Dufrenois, on the occasion, said that he had never seen such encouraging welcome. "It is new partnership for Airbus," he said, hoping to have an extended partnership with NAC in the days to come.
NAC had signed purchase agreement with Airbus for two aircraft on June 27, 2013. Kharel and Sheel Sukla, senior sales director of Airbus, had signed the agreement after a long debate and legal hurdles.
Though, the corporation had started process to acquire aircraft for international operation some six years ago international bidding, it was stuck between the corporate rivelary between the American company Boeing and European company Airbus.
The then managing director of the corporation Sugat Ratna Kansakar was blamed for pre-paying Airbus 'illegally' and sent to jail by the anti-corruption watchdog, Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). But the court dismissed the charges against Kansakar and paved the way for NAC to move ahead with the agreement with European company Airbus.
However, legal delay has cost the corporation more due to price escalation. The NAC has made a full payment of Rs 7.20 billion, Kharel said, adding that the NAC has also made pre-payment for the second Airbus.
The catalogue price of two Airbus A320-200 is around Rs 15 billion. As part of the agreement, Airbus is providing free training to NAC´s engineers and pilots.
NAC has borrowed Rs 10 billion from Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) at 12 per cent interest per annum to finance purchase of the aircraft. According to the agreement, NAC has to pay back the loan within 15 years. The payment calendar starts after the corporation starts operation of the new aircraft.
Similarly, on the occasion, minister Amatya said that the rapid expansion of global tourism market has made it necessary for Nepal to enhance quality of aviation service by making more punctual and credible. "We have emphasised the importance of 'air safety' and prioritised it in our policy,” he added.
The newly acquired A320 has wing tip devices, which, according to Airbus, will deliver unbeatable economics and up to four per cent reduction in fuel burn. It is fitted with twin V2500-A5 SelectOne engines, the aircraft has 158 seats including eight in business class. The aircraft is fitted with fuel-saving winglets, named Sharklet by Airbus, that reduces fuel burn by up to four per cent. Likewise, it has the state-of-the-art Required Navigation Performance (RVP) technologies that allows the aircraft to fly precisely along predefined routes that is beneficial for operations at high altitude airports like Kathmandu. The aircraft is a member of the Airbus' benchmark single-aisle aircraft family, A320 is one of the best selling commercial jetliners. Airbus has built 6,415 A320s as of January 30.
Regular political bickering in the national flag carrier by the post-1990 government made the NAC lose its credibility. The NAC that currently operates a fleet of two ageing Boeing 757 on international route, also has recently acquired one MA 60 and one Harbin Y12E from china, apart from two Twin Otters on domestic routes. It is adding four more China-made aircrafts for its domestic fleet.