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Capt Rameshwar Thapa: Aviation Sector Blueprint of Nepal

Nepal boasts the safest skies despite challenging weather and terrain. Despite our best efforts, air accidents occur, which is regrettable. If Nepal’s landscape were in other countries, Capt Thapa believes they would struggle to avoid accidents or would experience more accidents than Nepal has faced. - Editor

Capt Rameshwar Thapa: Aviation Sector Blueprint of Nepal

Captain Rameshwar Thapa is a veteran rescue and relief helicopter pilot who began flying in 1994. He is the owner of Simrik Air and has served as the president of the Airlines Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN) four times. His fourth tenure concluded only this month. His autobiography, ‘Barud Mathi Udda’, was published in 2018 and became a bestseller.

The aviation sector is a vital contributor to tourism and mobility, driving economic activity wherever airports are present. Various factors within the aviation sector, including infrastructure, human resources, academia, and investment, directly contribute to enhancing safety in Nepali skies. In his aviation sector blueprint, Capt Thapa presents a 10-point explanation to provide a clearer understanding of this sector.



In Nepal, numerous domestic airports have been constructed without adequate market analysis and strategic planning. The consumption environment hasn’t been tailored to accommodate the increased number of airports, nor have aircraft been added proportionately to match the demand.

Concerning international airports in Nepal, while the quantity is satisfactory, there are quality issues. Therefore, the need for Nijgadh International Airport is paramount. Given our difficult terrain, the feasibility of the Pokhara International Airport is questionable. Additionally, Gautam Buddha International Airport, situated close to the Indian border, faces airspace restrictions and lacks the capacity to accommodate sufficient aircraft. Nijgadh, positioned advantageously, would alleviate the burden on Tribhuvan International Airport. Up to this point, Nepal has primarily operated destination airports, yet the global aviation trend has shifted towards transit hubs. Nijgadh Airport emerges as the most suitable and only option in this context.

Human resources and academics

The aviation industry is inherently globalized, with human resources trained anywhere in the world being capable of working in any part of the globe, whether as cabin crew, ground handlers, technical support staff, or air traffic controllers. Despite having top-notch human resources, including those in Nepal, the growth of training institutes in Nepal has been stunted due to the small market and narrow-mindedness of the government and regulatory bodies. Nepal has struggled to attract foreign investment in aviation academia. However, with a conducive environment provided by the government, Nepal could become an ideal destination for aviation training. The rugged terrain and diverse landscape and weather present in Nepal offer unique training opportunities, resulting in high-quality human resources being produced. It’s imperative that we capitalize on this potential and take steps to enhance aviation training within the country. Also, there is huge demand for aviation management human resources and Nepal could cater to this void.

Private sector

Nepal’s private sector has demonstrated exceptional performance in the aviation sector. Despite facing challenges such as a small market, these entities have maintained minimal profit margins and adhered strictly to aviation guidelines, prioritizing safety above all else. Furthermore, the private sector has established robust and international standard aircraft maintenance systems in Nepal. With a more favorable environment for private sector operations, there is potential for increased investment from airlines operators and new investors will also join the aviation industry. The private sector’s practices in aviation are well-documented, accountable, fair and transparent.


The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) serves as the guardian of the aviation sector. It is important for CAAN to act as a guardian-like role towards airlines operators, offering support and assistance during both favorable and challenging times. Operators and investors alike anticipate a harmonious and cooperative relationship with CAAN, built on mutual trust and understanding. CAAN must proactively strive to cultivate and maintain such relations. This involves ensuring that its operations run smoothly, free from unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles that could hinder the progress of airlines and other stakeholders in the aviation industry.

National flag carrier

Airlines operators need to function in an independent environment. In my view, Nepal Airlines cannot be considered a part of the aviation industry due to the absence of an independent environment, which has adversely affected the national flag carrier. It has become a hub for political recruitment and suffers from excessive political influence. Thai Airways, established around the same time as Nepal Airlines, has made remarkable strides, expanding its services to approximately 70 destinations worldwide. Meanwhile, Nepal Airlines has struggled to operate at its full capacity.

Furthermore, Nepal Airlines is subject to the Public Procurement Act, leading to delays in its activities. For instance, in the event of an issue with any part of the aircraft requiring replacement, the airline cannot address it immediately due to the requirement for international tenders and compliance with the Public Procurement Act, a process that typically takes around six months. The nature of the aviation sector demands prompt solutions to problems, often within hours. To address these challenges effectively, Nepal Airlines should transition to operate under the Company Act.

Laws and policies

Our civil aviation industry adheres to international standard laws ratified by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), ensuring smooth operations. However, the Open Sky Policy, adopted in 1992, has not undergone a single review since its inception. It is crucial to periodically review and update this policy to align with evolving industry trends and requirements. Although there are international leasing and financing policies in Nepal, they are not yet fully matured. It is essential to prioritize the enhancement of these practices through regular reviews and updates to keep pace with global standards. The Cape Town Convention, a treaty designed to facilitate asset-based financing and leasing of aviation equipment, expand financing opportunities, and reduce costs, has not been ratified by our legislature. Ratifying this convention would attract foreign investments into the aviation sector, providing substantial economic benefits.


Nepal stands out as a nation with the potential to thrive primarily on tourism, making it a prime candidate for becoming a top global tourist destination. In realizing this potential, the aviation sector plays a pivotal role. Tourists rely heavily on aviation for mobility, and elements such as aircraft, cabin crew, airports, and ground handling serve as their initial impressions of the country. It is hence imperative that our aviation industry leaves a positive and lasting impression on tourists to attract and retain them. From the moment they step onto a plane operated by Nepali carriers to their arrival and departure at our airports, every interaction shapes their perception of our country. Therefore, ensuring high standards of service, safety, and professionalism across all aspects of aviation operations is essential to enhance Nepal’s appeal as a tourist destination.


Nepal’s rugged topography presents significant challenges to road infrastructure, frequently disrupted by natural calamities such as floods and landslides, leading to prolonged shutdowns. Moreover, the country grapples with a high incidence of road accidents. Air travel hence emerges as a superior and time-saving alternative. Apart from human transportation and mobility, airways are indispensable for various critical activities, including the construction of hydroelectric power plants and infrastructure development in remote rural areas. Additionally, they play a vital role in facilitating rapid response and effective relief efforts during rescue operations. That is why the government should focus on making aviation a major means of transport.

International concerns

The European Union (EU) has blacklisted our airlines due to concerns over the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), which holds both service provider and regulatory powers. The EU and the ICAO share the concern that these functions should be separated. This is an international practice but is not mandatory and it has not impacted safety. Our state should assertively defend our position and address international concerns. Another issue raised is the political role of the CAAN board chairperson, who is the Minister for Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation. However, civil aviation requires technical expertise, and a political figure may not be best suited to direct technical matters.


Nepal boasts the safest skies despite challenging weather and terrain. Despite our best efforts, accidents occur, which is regrettable. If our landscape were in other countries, I believe they would struggle to avoid accidents or would experience more accidents than we have faced. Despite challenges, the aviation sector holds immense potential for tourism and development. It requires strategic reforms, transparency, and private sector engagement to unlock this potential and become a driving force for Nepal’s growth.