KATHMANDU: Nepal Airlines has postponed the re-launch of its Osaka service till August-end, the state-owned carrier said. Flights to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport were slated to start on July 4.

The Osaka flight has been postponed to August 29, said Madan Kharel, executive chairman of Nepal Airlines. He said that the corporation was forced to postpone the flight as the advance bookings were really poor.

Kharel said they were optimistic about the September-November period which is Nepal’s busiest travel season when Nepalis rush home en masse to celebrate the Dashain and Tihar festivals with their families. The festival exodus coincides with Nepal’s peak tourist season which accounts for nearly 30 percent of annual tourist arrivals in the country.

Nepal Airlines also plans to operate flights to Narita International Airport and has already applied for a slot there. According to the carrier, if it gets permission to operate flights to both airports, it would be two weekly flights on each sector. If it chooses to serve only one airport, it can operate three weekly flights.

On June 18 last year, Nepal and Japan revised the air service agreement, increasing the number of flights seven-fold from twice weekly to 14 weekly flights with any type of aircraft on a reciprocal basis.

As per the old air service agreement signed on February 17, 1993, Nepali airlines were permitted to operate 400 weekly seats or two weekly flights out of a single airport. Nepal Airlines launched its Japan service in 1994, flying to Osaka via Shanghai, China. In 2007, it was forced to suspend the route as it did not have enough planes.

The carrier expects the resumption of its Japan service to help improve its financial health. Nepal Airlines has found itself in the midst of money problems because it has not been able to fly its newly acquired Airbus A330 jets on profitable long routes like Japan and Europe.

The number of travellers from Nepal to Japan has been growing significantly in the last few years. The country received 29,768 Japanese tourists last year, up 8.9 percent compared to the 2017 figure.

Japan will be an attractive destination for Nepalis, and the number of Nepalis there is likely to grow substantially in the coming years.