KATHMANDU: Nepal has sought access to all Chinese airports and China has proposed to increase flight frequencies to Nepal as they prepare to revise the bilateral air service agreement next month.

High-level delegations from the two countries are scheduled to meet in Beijing on July 23 to thrash out the details. Tourism Joint Secretary Suresh Acharya said that the members of the Nepali delegation were yet to be named. “Both sides have agreed on the negotiation date,” he said.

Nepal will ask China to allow Nepali carriers to fly to different Chinese cities as the government has set a target to significantly increase Chinese arrivals during Visit Nepal campaign 2020 which aims to attract 2 million foreign tourists.

Nepal wants to bring at least 500,000 Chinese tourists in 2020.

Currently, six Chinese carriers—Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Sichuan Airlines, Cathay Dragon and Tibet Airlines—operate flights to Nepal. The existing pact allows up to 70 flights per week. Since the agreed frequency has been used up, Chinese carriers want the new pact to allow more flights with travel demand constantly going up, government officials said.

No Nepali carriers are permitted to fly to China. The national flag carrier used to operate a service to Osaka, Japan via Shanghai until 2008 under fifth freedom rights.

In 2015, Nepal Airlines applied for landing permission at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, but its application has not been approved.

Nepali private carrier Himalaya Airlines had also submitted applications at the Tourism Ministry on different occasions with a plan to connect Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Changsha which are key outbound markets with a high consuming capacity.

Himalaya had asked the government to make arrangements for these routes which are not among the air routes specified in the Nepal-China bilateral air service agreement. There has been no development on the issue so far.

Vijay Shrestha, vice-president administration of Himalaya Airlines, said that in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious effort to improve regional cooperation and connectivity, China should open up more destinations instead of being selective.

“Market dynamics can change. But if we have wider destination options, it will be comfortable for carriers.” He said that Himalaya had planned to connect Kathmandu with the Chinese capital Beijing. “Besides, we have been planning to connect potential tourist cities in China.”

According to Acharya, apart from allowing Nepal’s carrier access to different Chinese cities, the government has planned to promote upcoming Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa. The country’s second international airport is expected to begin operation by early 2020.

Tourism Ministry officials said that the Nepal side would also discuss the possibility of allowing Nepali airlines to conduct Manasarovar tours or aerial circumnavigation of Manasarovar in China by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.

They said that the proposed aerial tour could attract a large number of pilgrims who have money but no time or inclination to trek over the treacherous route. Mt Kailash and Lake Manasarovar are a big draw for the Hindu and Buddhist devout.

Nepal and China signed a revised bilateral air services agreement in February 2014, permitting the operation of 56 flights per week with any type of aircraft on a reciprocal basis.

The pact allowed each country to increase the flight frequency to 70 per week by 2016. Under the old agreement, Chinese airlines were allowed to operate 14 flights per week.

According to the Department of Immigration, China retained the top spot as Nepal’s tourism source market in the first four months of 2019, sending 20.64 percent more tourists year-on-year. Nepal received 64,578 Chinese tourists during the period January-April, according to the statistics of the Department of Immigration.

Arrivals from China saw the strongest growth of 46.8 percent to 153,602 individuals in 2018, largely due to increased flight frequencies between the two countries.