Nepal Airlines Corporation once carried more than half of all visitors to the country; now its market share is approaching five percent. Sixteen hundred employees operate two decades-old 727s on only 15 flights per week, plus five 19-seat aircraft on domestic routes.
One of those old Boeings is being taken out of service for six to eight weeks for maintenance soon. The other plane is due for the same C-check maintenance in April. The fall high season for tourism is right around the corner, and the April dates are during the spring high season.
But guess what – no one will notice that the flag carrier is at half capacity even at a peak time of year. Twenty-eight other airlines operate international flights to Nepal and will easily pick up the slack.
Operating NAC is expensive. The two C-checks alone will require over $4.5 million on top of the $40 million or so the government invests into Nepal Airlines each year. And for Nepal Airlines to be an effective carrier, they need more aircraft – at least two more at about $60 million each.
Every previous aircraft purchase or lease in the company’s history has attracted charges of massive graft, and there is no reason to think this time would be different. And even with more planes, NAC would remain a sinkhole of patronage jobs. (Bhutan’s Druk Air operates a similar number of aircraft and flights internationally with fewer than half the number of employees.)
Rather than spending $125 million now on Nepal Airlines, this is an opportune time to scrap it entirely. Internationally, NAC wouldn’t be missed. The sense that Nepal “needs” a national airline is just emotional, and offered up mostly by those in a position to benefit from patronage or graft.
It’s a winning proposition all around – save money and cut corruption by closing Nepal Airlines.