Nepal accepts Bhutan’s request for more “fifth freedom” flights

But no decision was made on a request to fly to Kathmandu via Bagdogra and Bodhgaya 

Aviation: Bhutan obtained two more “fifth freedom” flights to New Delhi via Kathmandu, in the latest meeting between Bhutan and Nepal on the two countries’ Air Service Agreement, held in Kathmandu, last week.

Fifth freedom rights allows an airline the right to pick up revenue paying passengers in an intermediate point, in this case Nepal, between the airline’s own country and a foreign country, in this case, between Bhutan and India.

Prior to this, Bhutan was provided with only four “fifth freedom” right flights on its Paro-Kathmandu-New Delhi, and vice versa, sector. All four were used by the national airline Drukair.

“We’re very happy Nepal is being so cooperative and flexible,” said information and communications secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji, who led the Bhutanese delegation there.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said the government is yet to decide which airline would be provided the additional fifth freedom flights. But he said that the request for the additional flights had been made by Tashi Air subsidiary, Bhutan Airlines.

The new “fifth freedom” flights will begin soon, Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority director, Wangdi Gyaltshen said.

On the Nepali government’s request, Bhutan agreed to offer “fifth freedom” rights to Nepali air carriers wanting to stop over in Paro and fly onto the countries of Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.

This allows specified Nepali airlines to stop over in Paro, pick up revenue paying passengers and continue on. The same applies when returning from the four countries.

In theory this further opens up the market to international competition, but it is not known if any Nepali airlines are interested in flying to or via Bhutan currently. A private airline, Buddha Air began scheduled operations to Bhutan in 2010, but pulled out after seven months after suffering heavy losses.

Based on a reciprocal basis, Bhutan also has beyond “fifth freedom” rights to four points: New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, and Bodhgaya.

While Bhutan had specified its via Kathmandu beyond flights in 2004, when the Air Service Agreement was signed, Nepal had not identified its via Paro beyond flights until the recent meeting.

The Bhutanese delegation also reiterated their request for “fifth freedom” flights to Kathmandu using Bagdogra and Bodhgaya as intermediate points. However, the Nepali side only “duly noted” the request, as per Nepali media reports.

“Additional fifth freedom requests are on hold and we are hopeful that this will be resolved soon,” Wangdi Gyaltshen said.

The Nepali side also requested that Nepali citizens be granted visa-on-arrival at Paro airport.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said that the request had been noted and would be forwarded on to the relevant agencies.

The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on the agreed points.

The last meeting between the two countries on the air agreement occurred in 2014 when Tashi Air was permitted as the second Bhutanese airline to fly to Nepal, the number of permissible flights between the two countries was raised from seven to 21, and a USD 10 cargo royalty, paid for each passenger picked up at Kathmandu, was waived off.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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