December crash takes toll on Nepal airline’s Bhutan flights

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : A deadly air crash in December that killed 18 Bhutanese pilgrims in Nepal has now claimed another victim – a Nepali airline’s direct flights between Nepal and Bhutan.

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Nepal’s private-sector Buddha Air, which graduated to an international airline in August 2010 with flights to Bhutan’s Paro, has been forced to discontinue the operation after the number of passengers dropped drastically, thanks to the tragic crash in December of another domestic Nepali carrier.

A flight of Nepali domestic airline Tara Air crashed in eastern Nepal Dec 16, killing all 22 people on board. With 18 of the 19 passengers being Bhutanese pilgrims, the disaster has created an acute fear of air travel among the Bhutanese, which has directly impacted Buddha Air’s flights.

Buddha Air, the first private airline to be allowed to run services to Bhutan, started Paro flights Aug 23 with four flights a week and planned to increase them to seven during the tourist season.

However, now, due to the dearth of passengers, the flights have been grounded. From March 11, it will run only chartered flights to Bhutan, Buddha Air’s marketing department told IANS.

The Nepali company is now seeking to concentrate on India instead.

Buddha Air began flights between Kathmandu and Lucknow from January 2011, and now it is seeking to start flights to other Indian cities as well.

By March, the company hopes to fly to Varanasi and Kolkata. The other stops in India on its list are Patna, Guwahati, Dehradun and Gorakhpur – destinations not covered by any other airline so far.

Buddha Air is also seeking to float a new international aviation company in partnership with other domestic Nepali airlines.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])