Buddha Air has officially announced it will be operating international flights from Pokhara using Airbus A320 aircraft after the new airport is completed.
The carrier made the announcement at a celebration marking its 20th anniversary on Wednesday. The country’s leading domestic airline also declared that two ATR planes would be inducted into its fleet next year.
Birendra Bahadur Basnet, managing director of Buddha Air, said in a statement that they planned to operate three A320 jets from August 1, 2021. “We are optimistic that the airport project will be completed by then.” By 2031, the carrier plans to expand its A320 jet fleet to 20 aircraft.
Buddha said it was holding international discussions with Airbus and making preparations accordingly to fly the A320 jets. Airbus officials had given a presentation on the cost effective and fuel efficient A320 jets during their visit to Nepal this week. As per the carrier’s assessment, it needs at least 1,000 tourists daily to make services viable.
The construction of Pokhara International Airport started in August, with the completion date set for July 10, 2021. The government signed a $215.96 million soft loan agreement with China EXIM Bank in March 2016 for the construction of the new airport in Pokhara.
The proposed airport in the tourist and commercial hub of Pokhara lies at Chinnedanda, 3 km to the east of the existing domestic airport. As per the feasibility report, the airport’s runway will be 2,500 metres long and 45 metres wide. It will accommodate medium category jets like the Boeing 757 and the Airbus 320.
Meanwhile, Buddha has made an aggressive move in the domestic sector too. The company said that the first of its two new ATR aircraft would arrive by the second week of January. The second will arrive by June, said Rupesh Joshi, marketing and sales director of Buddha Air.
The company, which commenced operations in October 11, 1997 with sightseeing flights to Everest using a brand new Beechcraft 1900D, has now become the largest single domestic air operator, with three ATR 42s, four ATR 72s and two Beechcrafts. It holds a 58 percent share of the domestic passenger market.
Buddha flew a historic 1.01 million passengers in 2016, the highest number so far by an individual airline in Nepal’s aviation industry. “In our two decades of service, we haven’t compromised on safety,” the carrier said. Last year, Buddha Air obtained a licence to provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for the family of ATR and Beechcraft aircraft from its state-of-the-art closed-door hangar at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).
The airline estimates that it can provide MRO services for seven to eight aircraft annually. Buddha Air’s hangar, which is spread over 37,000 square feet, was built at a cost of $2.5 million in 2012.
“As the hangar can accommodate an Airbus 320 or a Boeing 737, it can extend MRO services for narrow body jets in the near future,” the official added. “MRO services in Nepal can create a big impact on the country’s aviation industry.”