KATHMANDU: Nepal and China on Friday signed a revised bilateral air services agreement in Beijing, permitting the operation of 98 flights weekly with any type of aircraft on a reciprocal basis. The existing pact allows up to 70 flights per week.

Out of the increased 28 flights per week, 21 should be operated in Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa and Pokhara International Airport by the China-designated carriers, said Pramod Nepal, under secretary at the Tourism Ministry.

The Tourism Ministry has allowed Chinese carrier to operate seven additional flights at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

Gautam Buddha International Airport, which will serve as a gateway to the birthplace of Buddha, has been scheduled to come into operation by early 2020. Pokhara International Airport has been expected to complete by July 2021.

The agreement was signed between Suresh Acharya, joint secretary at the ministry and Bai Wenli, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, in Beijing on behalf of their respective governments.

In the revised pact, the Chinese side agreed to designate eight new destinations in China for Nepali carriers, said Nepal.

Currently, the existing pact allows seven destinations namely Beijing, Shanghai, Lhasa, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu and Xi’an.  “Nepali carriers are allowed to operate flight on any new destination in China on its own discretion,” he said.

Currently, five Chinese carriers—Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Sichuan Airlines and Tibet Airlines—operate flights to Nepal.

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 still not been approved.

“As we raised this issue with the Chinese side, they have agreed to extend necessary support for Nepali airlines to operate in China. The Chinese side agreed to expedite the process of issuing operating authorization to Nepal Airlines and Himalayan Airlines as per their applications for flights between Kathmandu to Guangzhou and Beijing, respectively,” said Nepal.

Vijay ShresthaVice President-Administration at Himalayan Airlines, said they have planned to operate flights on Kathmandu-Lhasa and Kathmandu- Beijing routes by October this year.

“We have applied for flight permissions and waiting for slot approval,” said Shrestha, adding that the move is aimed at bringing more Chinese tourists in the upcoming Visit Nepal 2020 campaign. Nepal wants to bring in at least 500,000 Chinese tourists in 2020.

Last time, Nepal and China had revised bilateral air services agreement was in February 2014, permitting the operation of 70 flights per week from 14 flights per week.

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.