Nepal, Sri Lanka set to revive direct air link

Saturday, 8 November 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

KSA: The relationship between Sri Lanka and Nepal may strengthen once the two nations resume direct air travel between Colombo and Kathmandu early next year. The two countries signed an Air Service Agreement (ASA) to establish direct service between their two capital cities in 2009, and it is projected to become a reality in March 2015. “Mihin Lanka airline is set to start direct flights from Colombo to Kathmandu in March. All necessary preparations have already been made to this effect,” Sri Lankan Ambassador W. M. Senevirathna told Khabar South Asia. Sri Lanka’s other state-owned airline, Sri Lankan Airlines, will likely begin its own direct service to Kathmandu once it completes renewal of its long-haul fleet, the ambassador said. Mohan Krishna Sapkota, a spokesman at Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, confirmed the arrangement. “We expect this to help boost Nepal’s tourism and bolster friendship between the two countries,” he told Khabar. Nepal’s national flag carrier - then known as Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation - had weekly direct service from Kathmandu to Colombo until the early 1980s. However, escalating domestic terrorism in Sri Lanka and air safety issues in Nepal caused suspension of the service.  

Special cultural relations between Nepal and Sri Lanka

Home to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, Nepal has special cultural and religious relations with Sri Lanka, where over 70% of the population is Buddhist. According to the Nepal Tourism Board, in 2011, nearly 60,000 Sri Lankan nationals travelled to Nepal - mainly visiting Lumbini. In 2012, nearly 70,000 visited. “As direct flights between the two countries make travel a lot easier, we expect more Sri Lankan nationals to visit Nepal in coming years,” Ajit Man Tamang of the Lumbini Development Trust told Khabar. Tamang added that Sri Lankan tourists constitute the largest number of tourists visiting Lumbini, followed by Burmese and Thai.  

Direct flights between SAARC capitals key to regional integration

One foreign affairs expert in Kathmandu believes the development not only helps bolster friendly relations between the nations, but will also help ensure regional integration in South Asia. Former Nepalese Ambassador to the United Nations Jayaraj Acharya said that although member states have long discussed regional integration, South Asia remains the world’s least integrated region. “Let alone others, we have not been able to connect capital cities of SAARC member states,” he said, referring to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.