By Sharon Thambala ,
New Delhi: The Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu was indefinitely shut on Saturday after a massive earthquake rocked Nepal just before noon, resulting in the cancellation of all the eight subsequent return flights from India bound for the capital city.
The airport, according to aviation officials here, was opened in the evening, but only for non-commercial and relief operations. Some airlines like SpiceJet said they had been asked by Indian authorities to keep an aircraft ready to lift supplies from here and bring back stranded passengers.
Soon after the quake struck, an IndiGo flight for Nepal, which had left at 11:30 a.m. from New Delhi, had to be recalled and the departures of two others were suspended, official here said. The flight of Nepalese carrier Buddha Air, bound for Varanasi, was among the eight flights that were called off.
The earthquake struck at 11:41 a.m. India time.
Officials also said an Air Arabia flight from Sharjah to Kathmandu was diverted to the Indian capital. An Indigo flight that had taken off from here minutes before the quake was also called back, while the departure of two flights of Jet Airways and Air India were stayed, they added.
There were eight return fights scheduled between India and Nepal on Saturday — five from New Delhi and one each from Mumbai, Kolkata and Varanasi. Four Indian carriers operating seven of these flights announced suspension of services to Kathmandu.
Sources at Indira Gandhi International Airport said modifications will be made in the schedules once a clear picture emerges. “We are assessing the situation,” an official said.
Budget carrier SpiceJet said it will not only offer full refund to passengers booked on their flights to Kathmandu, but also allow them an option for re-scheduling as and when operations resume to the Nepalese capital.
“All passengers on our flights to and from Kathmandu can get a full refund,” an official at the airline’s customer care department told IANS. “We are also extending a fortnight’s window to our booked passengers to re-schedule their flights at no extra charges,” the official added.
The window is open till May 8, SpiceJet said. The airline was to operate one flight to Kathmandu on Saturday, leaving New Delhi at 5:50 p.m. and the same aircraft was to return at 10:05 p.m.
Similarly, flag carrier Air India also cancelled its flights to Kathmandu from New Delhi and Kolkata for a week, offered a full refund and a rescheduling opportunity for tickets till May 31. IndiGo also made a similar offer, while Jet Airways kept the re-scheduling open till May 5.
“We will decide soon on tomorrow’s operations depending on terminal facilities, security and immigration arrangements,” said Aditya Ghosh, president of Indigo Airlines.
In a tweet, Jet Airways said: “With reference to the earthquake in Nepal and the northern parts of India, all our flights and guests are safe. We are monitoring the situation and will share flight updates shortly.”
(Sharon Thambala can be reached at [email protected])