15 January 2019: It’s been nearly eight months since Nepal took delivery of two wide-body aircraft but a direct flight between Kathmandu and Sydney is unlikely to land anytime soon.
In 2016, a senior Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) official had promised to work swiftly towards connecting the two airports as soon as Nepal received the now scandal-ridden A330s.
A request to NAC for an update on that promise has gone unanswered. Earlier emails about other aspects of the A330 “purchase” saga also were not responded to.
Nepal took delivery of the first plane with call sign 9N-ALY on June 28 last year and the second with call sign 9N-ALZ shortly after but instead of opening new doors of opportunity as was expected earlier, the planes became the subject of a high-profile corruption inquiry.
The scandal is believed to be so deep-rooted that it is now beginning to feature names of few former prime ministers.
A number of international students from Nepal have contacted southasia.com.au in recent weeks requesting a follow-up on the progress of the much-awaited direct flight. This level of expectation is ironical given how ill-prepared NAC turned out to be in putting the two Airbus jets to good work of serving its loyal customers of the national flag carrier.
With an increasing Nepalese diaspora down under, thousands of seniors travel from Nepal to Australia every year. The direct flight would particularly benefit them, students argue, as most of these elderly people do not speak English and a stop-over at a third country sort of complicates their journey.
A direct flight between Sydney and Kathmandu would also benefit Nepal’s tourism sector, experts say, as tourists would be encouraged to travel to the mountain nation due to possibly a much cheaper rate.
In 2016, NAC’s Deputy Director Shailesh Kansakar had promised a competitive fare structure for the Sydney-Kathmandu flight. However, the actual rate would depend on a number of factors including oil price, he had warned.
A sub-committee under Nepal’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently concluded that NAC’s managing director Sugat Ratna Kansakar, along with present and past ministers and government secretaries, masterminded the biggest corruption scheme the impoverished South Asian nation had ever witnessed.
It put the suspected corruption at NRs 4.3 billion, approximately US$38 million.
A quick study of the Nepali-language “conclusion” of the parliamentary subcommittee’s findings indicates that it suspects policies and bylaws of Nepal Airlines Corporation were subverted in order to create a conducive environment for executing the corruption.