Born in Nardevi, Kathmandu in 2009 BS, Sugat Ratna Kansakar is the managing director of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC). He studies Juddhodaya Public High School, before completing his ISc from Amrit Science College. After his ISc, he got a scholarship to study engineering in Pune. Kansakar is the former managing director of Nepal Telecom – the state-owned telecom operator. Kishor Basnyat of eTravelPress.Com talked to Kansakar on various issues related to the national flag carrier. Excerpts:
What changes have you seen in Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) after you returned to the helm of the national flag carrier?
Many see Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) as a government entity and treat it accordingly. But I see it as a business entity. My focus has been on addressing managerial weaknesses and developing NAC as an efficient business organization. After studying the reasons behind drop in NAC’s revenue and passenger footfalls, I came to a conclusion that we are lacking production capacity. If we don’t have production, you cannot do business effectively. I often tell my employees that we are no different than a grocery shop. Grocery shop sells groceries, we sell seats. If you don’t have groceries, grocery shop cannot do business. How can we do business if we don’t have seats? We have permission to fly to 38 countries. But we are flying to only five countries because we don’t have sufficient aircraft. Twenty-six airlines are doing brisk business here enjoying more than 90 percent market share. But we are forced to act as a mute spectator because we have no production; we have no seat, no aircraft. Now most of the stakeholders have realized the fact that NAC cannot function effectively without aircraft.
What are the major problems of NAC at present?
The first and foremost problem is the lack of aircraft. We have recently decided to procure to wide-body aircraft to expand our presence in international market. The second is; we need to enhance our management and develop it as a professional organization as we have to compete with multi-billion-dollar companies like Qatar Airways, Etihad, Thai Airways, Silk Air, DragonAir, Jet Airways and Air India, among others. If we are to see off their competition, we need to be strong and capable. We should not compromise on aviation safety.
You are adding wide-body aircraft at a time when many people are saying that NAC is failing to make optimum use of its existing aircraft. What do you say?
The allegation of not making optimum use of existing aircraft is baseless. We are seeing high occupancy in all sectors where we are operating. People are requesting me to arrange tickets for them. Occupancy is a bit low in new destinations like Mumbai. I would like to assure you that there is a big market and we can fill our wide-body aircraft easily.
Two Chinese aircraft are becoming a pain in the neck for the national flag carrier. Do you have any plan to bring the remaining four from China?
Chinese aircraft were never in our priority. We got the two Chinese aircraft as part of the government-to-government agreement. Though their operating cost is high compared to other aircraft and cannot carry load as per the capacity, they are not a burden for us.
The file of bringing the remaining four Chinese aircraft is under study at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA). If the government thinks that the aircraft are fit for Nepal, we will operate them.
How is the relation of the national flag carrier with its line ministry?
We enjoy a cordial relationship with the tourism ministry. We should have good relationship with the tourism minister, tourism secretary and other high-ranking officials in the ministry as most of the important decision of NAC are taken by the ministry. If you don’t have good relation with them, you cannot implement your plans. It is more for us now as tourism secretary is the ex-officio chairman of NAC.
You were given jail term during your first tenure in NAC? Can you tell us the reasons behind that?
Those were unfortunate days. We had placed orders for two aircraft after briefing most of the government officials, parliamentary committee members and even the then Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal about our business plan. But a day after the then Prime Minister assured me to endorse the plan from the cabinet; a case was filed against the process. I cannot reveal you the reason behind this.
Can you give some hints?
Sorry, I can’t.
Many say that the grounding handling charges at the Tribhuvan International Airport is very expensive than other airports in the region. How true is this?
We have said many times that the ground handling charges here are expensive but not much. Charges vary with airports. We have been paying high charges in other airports where we operate flights. I think the main complaints of international airlines flying here is on service quality not the price. We have improved our ground handling services in recent months. NAC is even preparing to get ISO certification for our ground handling services. We are improving our services to meet all the requirements. If we get ISO certification, we will be the first public entity in the county to receive the international quality certification.
Acquiring wide-body jets has been your No.1 priority at NAC. So when will the wide-body jets arrive?
We are working as per the timetable. NAC has received permission from the government, arranged financing and invited global tender to procure aircraft. If things go as planned, we will get delivery of first wide-body jet by September, 2017. The second will join our fleet six months later.
We will be operating flights to destinations in Japan, South Korea and Australia among others with the wide-body jets. We cannot operate flights to European destinations until a ban on Nepali airlines to fly in European Union airspace is removed lifted by the European Aviation Agency. We will operate non-stop flights to London once the ban is lifted.
Similarly, we are procuring software that facilitates passengers to buy NAC tickets from any corner of the world within a few months.
Any parting remarks?
Kathmandu is among the most expensive destinations in Asia in terms of flight cost. This is happening because international airline companies are charging exorbitant fare and we don’t have aircraft to intervene the market. Once we link Kathmandu to other cities, we expect flight prices to come down.
Our tourism industry is in need of a strong national flag carrier. If we succeed in linking Kathmandu to major tourist generating markets, flight prices will come down which will bring down cost of tour packages.