COVID-19 impact on Aviation Sector is severely decimating. The government has to introduce adequate actions and subsidies to encourage a safe take-off for reviving our tourism industry.
We all are aware, how badly Covid-19 is affecting everyone globally. This deadly outbreak has affected all sectors of society. Manufacturing industries, agriculture, health, education but the most affected sector being tourism, COVID-19 impact on Aviation Sector is severely decimating. The tourism industry broadly includes travel, trekking, rafting, hotel, airlines but many more other informal sectors also support the value chain the industry has.
In terms of domestic airlines in Nepal, there are three types of operations – Trunk, STOL, and Helicopter operations. Trunk operations have larger fixed-wing aircraft to airports with runways that are long and well equipped with navigational equipment to enable even night landing at some of them. STOL (Short Take-Off & Landing) operations use smaller fixed-wing aircraft to small, unpaved, grass runways and usually in mountainous areas, and the helicopter operations operate from a point to another point. The fixed-wing operations are on schedule basis but do also operate charter flights on demand. At present, Yeti Air, Buddha Air, Shree Airlines, and Saurya Airlines operate in the trunk sectors and Sita Air, Summit air, and Tara Air operate in the STOL sector.
COVID-19 impact on Aviation Sector STOL :
Because of the pandemic of Covid-19 at the beginning of the spring season of 2020, all international and domestic flights were restricted and tourism came to grinding halt. The season is disappeared before it began. As I have been part of the STOL sector for the last 20 years, I see that the Helicopter and STOL operators will be severely decimated including the loss of employment.
To provide relief to the tourism fraternity in this dire situation, recently Intervention of our Central Bank, the Nepal Rastra Bank, has indicated to reduce the interest rate by 2% for the outstanding loans, reschedule the repayment, and the possibility of an additional loan. This will somehow provide relief but not enough for tourism to overcome the crisis.
Social distancing in the aviation sector in the post-COVID-19 period is going to be a serious issue. For bigger aircraft operators it might be technically possible but for smaller aircraft operators it could be a huge challenge. Most of the STOL operators in their aircraft have a seating capacity of 16/17 persons only, and maintaining the occupancy at 50/60% to ensure social distance without increasing the tickets pricing by minimum two-fold or without subsidy from the government may not be viable.
It won’t be realistic to imagine tourism bouncing back very soon. Fortunately, there has been no death from the coronavirus in Nepal to date. If Nepal can contain the spread to a manageable level, we can start flying soon. The government has to introduce adequate actions and subsidies to encourage a safe take-off for reviving our tourism industry.
Manjani Shrestha Dongol
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