Air connectivity between India and Nepal is poised for a tremendous leap with the two neighbours inking an air pact that boosts weekly flight seats five-fold and opens 10 new destinations.
India and Nepal have revised their Air Services Agreement (ASA) after 12 years to keep pace with the rapid developments in the aviation industry since then, consenting to allow each other to operate 30,000 seats every week instead of the previous 6,000 seats.
In addition, Nepal can now fly to 21 destinations in India. While flights had been approved to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Bangalore and Varanasi earlier, now other Indian cities like Goa, Amritsar, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi can also be accessed.
The new destinations include three Indian towns with sizeable Nepali and Nepali-origin populations: Bagdogra, Dehradun and Gorakhpur.
Nepal has reciprocated by opening seven new towns to India: Pokhara, Lumbini, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj, Janakpur, Dhangadhi and Bhairahawa.
However, though the agreement comes into effect immediately, the new destinations would not be viable for some time since those in Nepal don't have international airports. Nepal's sole international airport is in the capital city Kathmandu.
But the government has announced it would build an international airport in Lumbini and a regional one at Pokhara keeping in mind its plan to draw one million visitors in 2011.
The revised ASA was signed in New Delhi Thursday after a two-day meeting Sep 8-9.
The Indian delegation was led by M M Madhavan Nambiar, secretary at the ministry of aviation, while the Nepali side was headed by his counterpart Nagendra Prasad Ghimire.
However, the revised air pact, while boosting trade and tourism, has not fully satisfied India on the security front.
India is yet to get Nepal to agree on the deployment of sky marshals on flights operated by designated airlines.
The request was made after the hijack of an Indian Airlines aircraft heading towards New Delhi from Kathmandu in December 1999, an incident that even now continues to haunt India's Bharatiya Janata Party that led the federal government at that time.
However, Nepal has been sitting on the proposal following adverse reaction from some of the political parties. The Nepali delegation said it had taken note of the request, which was already before the appropriate government authority.