Sep 20, 2016- Himalaya Airlines announced on Tuesday that it would be launching scheduled commercial flights between Kathmandu and Colombo on October 1, re-establishing direct air links with Sri Lanka after more than three decades.


The newly established carrier, a China-Nepal joint venture, will operate three weekly flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays using 158-seater Airbus A320 aircraft.


The flight will depart from Tribhuvan International Airport at 11:30 am and land at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo at 15:15 pm local time. The return flight will leave at 16:15 pm local time and arrive in Kathmandu at 20:15 pm.


The airfare for the three-and-a-half-hour flight has been set at Rs29,191 one way (including taxes). A return ticket costs Rs50,041, according to the airline.


Himalaya Airlines had received permission to operate charter flights to the island country last April. The planned direct service is the first time that scheduled commercial airlines have been allowed to connect Colombo since the 1980s.


“We reviewed the passenger traffic on the route and saw that it has potential two-way traffic demand,” said Vijay Shrestha, vice-president administration, of Himalaya Airlines. “Direct air connectivity will help both countries to promote trade and tourism.”


Sri Lanka is the third largest tourist source market for Nepal after India and China. Despite the earthquakes and trade embargo last year, arrivals from Sri Lanka rose significantly to 44,367. In the previous year, 37,546 Sri Lankans visited Nepal.


Only 2.5 percent of the arrivals or 1,089 visitors came by air, a trend attributed to lack of direct flights between Nepal and Sri Lanka. According to government statistics, 97.5 percent of the Sri Lankan visitors entered Nepal overland from Bhairahawa to visit Buddhist sites in nearby Lumbini.


A survey entitled Visitors Survey and Observation has shown that 72.6 percent of the visitors spent only half an hour sightseeing in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in southern Nepal.


“After the start of direct flights, we expect more travellers to visit Nepal and stay longer,” said Raju Bahadur KC, commercial general manager of Himalaya. “Currently, travellers have to spend a whole day to reach Nepal or Sri Lanka by flying through India, Malaysia, Thailand or even Dubai,” he said. “Besides, the airfare is also reasonable.”


KC said that the scheduled flights would also benefit the thousands of Nepalis working in the Maldives. “We have estimated that nearly 10,000 Nepalis are currently employed in the Maldives.”


National flag carrier Nepal Airlines, in its previous avatar as Royal Nepal Airlines, used to operate direct flights to Colombo during the 1980s. But the carrier suspended operations following an armed movement by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. There have been no direct air links between the two countries since then.


Plans to establish direct flights on the Kathmandu-Colombo route were revived during the 18th Saarc Summit held in Kathmandu in November 2014. Subsequently, the Sri Lankan government officially applied for authorisation to conduct daily flights between the two countries with Colombo-based carrier Mihin Lanka planning to start services.


In March 2015, the Tourism Ministry had issued an operating authorisation to the carrier. But the proposed services did not happen.


Meanwhile, Himalaya Airlines plans to add New Delhi to its network by October. It currently operates flights to Doha. The airline acquired an Airbus A320 in March and plans to induct another A320 into its fleet by October.