Raju Bahadur K.C. is the Deputy Managing Director (DMD) and Spokesperson of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC). Having more than three and a half decades of experience with the country’s national flag carrier, K.C. has remained effortful in developing the NAC as a strong and reliable airline. With a good track record and vision, K.C. says that the government needs to take an urgent decision regarding purchasing aircraft for NAC.
K.C. is among the five NAC officials, including the then Executive Chairman of the corporation, to get a clean chit from the Supreme Court (SC) concerning the aircraft purchase deal between NAC and the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Company.
The senior NAC administrator spoke to Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal on few current issues related to the national carrier.
The SC has recently given you and your colleagues a clean chit in regards with deal signed between NAC and the Airbus Company for purchasing aircraft. Will that process be reactivated?
By approving the verdict of the Special Court, the apex court has acquitted us of the charges. This has proved that the deal was fully lawful and realistic. With this verdict, we have got a justice. We were tortured unnecessarily after the Commission for Investigation of the Abuse of Authority (CIAA) also lodged lawsuits against us.
If we were found guilty, naturally we would face legal punishment. But it is sad that we cannot get compensations even for such an unwanted torture.
The deal was essential, but it could not materialise after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) under the parliament instructed the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation to scrap it. Later on, the Ministry of Finance also refused to stay guarantee for the plane purchase.
The corporation and the country have suffered a huge loss because of the cancellation of the deal. By now, the corporation would have three aircraft and we would have been operating commercial flights to many destinations like Japan and Australia. That would be a great help for Nepal’s tourism industry as well.
In my opinion, that aircraft purchasing process could be reactivated only when the PAC reviews its earlier decision. As a powerful body, the NAC board could decide on this. But its decision should comply with that of the government.
The Airbus company has already informed that it is ready to provide the NAC with aircraft at the prices fixed earlier despite a remarkable rise in the price of planes in the international market. So, considering both pros and cons of the earlier deal, the government needs to decide on it at the earliest possible. As the NAC is fully a state-owned enterprise, its uncertainty must end immediately.
However, one of the positive aspects is that Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has been in favour of purchasing aircraft for NAC as soon as possible through a transparent way.
In recent days, media reports have it that the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) is not in a mood to continue awarding the responsibility of ground handling at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) to the national carrier. What is the reality?
The NAC Act has a provision that the ground handling responsibility shall be given to the national carrier. The corporation has been carrying out this responsibility since the beginning. The CAAN also enjoys the authority to manage the task of ground handling.
Carrying out the responsibilities of ground handling at the TIA is not an easy task as the flow of aircraft and passengers has been increasing considerably. The existing facilities available at TIA are inadequate for such an increasing number of airlines. At present, the number of international airlines flying to Kathmandu has reached 28 and the number of their flights has also been growing. For example, Qatar Airways alone operates four flights a day.
There is constraint of landing and parking areas. Planes are forced to wait for landing at TIA for an hour. The security area is also not sufficient. As slots have not been arranged properly, there are chances of mixing up of baggage and passengers as well.
The TIA facilities were developed for meeting the air traffic until 2000. The infrastructure at the airport is inadequate to cope with such an increasing number of aircraft and passengers.
It is easy to put blames on us that we have failed to conduct the ground handling activities properly. But this can be resolved only through an integrated approach. But this does not mean that we do not welcome constructive criticisms.
It is sad to note that there are some groups who have been lobbying for assigning the responsibility of ground handling to foreign companies. They praise foreign airlines and hate our national carrier. For such groups, their personal interest is more important than the national one.
How do you see the country’s aviation industry?
The aviation industry is always growing rapidly. In Nepal also, this sector has been expanding gradually.
Our aviation business equals to Rs. 85 billion. But the NAC is doing its business only worth Rs. 4-5 billion. All the revenues generated by foreign airlines from selling tickets naturally go abroad. There are some people who are trying to send the revenues earned from ground handling as well to foreign countries.
Being a landlocked country, Nepal holds huge prospects of the aviation industry, as the country is a transit point between the two emerging economies—China and India. Nepal Airlines has also a bright future. In order to expand its services, either the government needs to develop the national carrier under a Public-Private Partnership model or it has to fully own and support it. Experienced persons should be given the responsibilities of managing and operating the airline.
You have worked with the NAC for more than 35 years and gained hands-on experiences in the field of aviation. How far have your experiences been utilised?
Our experiences have not been utilised properly. I would like to share a bitter experience. The NAC is now looking for candidates for the post of General Manager. But due to age-limit, experienced persons like me cannot apply for this. I do not see any rationale for having an age-bar for the position of the airline’s top executive, who is not going there for physical work. No person can be experienced without passing a certain level of age.
Finally, I would like to stress that the NAC is a national asset. This is not only the property of the employees working here. All should realise this and extend their positive support to the national carrier.