Wednesday Feb 8, 2023
Wednesday Feb 8, 2023

“We want to be the most contributing airline for tourism to Nepal”- Vijay Shrestha

Vijay Shrestha, the Vice President of Himalaya Airlines, talks about the airlines' journey over the last few years and their vision to be the airline that brings the largest number of tourists to Nepal.

2022 Mar 20, 7:07, Kathmandu
Photo: Bidhyash Dangol

VIJAY SHRESTHA is the Vice President of Himalaya Airlines, a Nepal – China joint venture private international airline that recently celebrated its 7th Anniversary.

He spoke with TERENCE LEE, CEO and Editorial Advisor of about the airlines' journey over the last few years and their vision to be the airline that brings the largest number of tourists to Nepal.


As Himalaya Airlines recently celebrated its 7th anniversary, how do you look back at achievements and the journey?

If you look at the airline industry in general and the history of the last several decades of global aviation, regional aviation, and Nepalese aviation, the cruise has not been very smooth. It has been very turbulent. Every now and then cycle kills in a variation manner and there has been turbulence every now and then.

Photo: Bidhyash Dangol
Photo: Bidhyash Dangol

In a similar manner, after we started Himalaya Airlines, first we had a major hit from the earthquakes. That impacted us for a couple of years at least. Our initial plan was to launch our service in June of 2015 and prior to the acquisition of the first aircraft, in April 2015 we had the episodic start of the major earthquake and though we had all systems and preparation in places like license, air operator certificate, and manpower that we hired from around the globe. For us, operating a fleet was a big challenge because we did not have local manpower for management, operation, technical maintenance, quality assurance, safety management, and all these aspects of the business. We hired manpower from all around the world and we had to retain all these infrastructure and costs related to it. We had to maintain and carry on like this for more than a year; hence, economically it was a very challenging period for us and a Herculean task for a new airline.

After the earthquake, the price of fuel spiked very high around 2018. In the airline industry, like several industries, the cost is a huge make or break factor and we have different kinds of operating costs. In operating costs, fuel is the largest component in the range of 30-40%. Any change in fuel price has a severe impact on the economic sustainability of the airline business. That was another huge challenge that we had to overcome.

The aviation sector suffered globally during the pandemic, what was the experience of Himalaya Airlines, what lessons have been learned on which you can now build and grow stronger in the days ahead?

Himalayan Airlines also had a difficult time during the pandemic. For the first several months, we did not have any operations. There were few government codes for evacuation flights; we operated several evacuation flights for Nepalese passengers stranded in the Middle East and Malaysia.

After that, even during the course of the pandemic, when we started our first flights, we had to face one-way traffic. All the passengers were Nepalese returning to their home country, Nepal. We had to operate flights in a breakeven manner. There was a call from the government, the nation, and civil society, so without looking for any profit, we wanted to help the nation and cooperate with the government. Hence, we charged fares that were more suitable and comfortable for passengers. During the pandemic operations, we operated flights more for social purposes with low tariffs. After some time, the government and also foreign governments allowed us to operate two-way flights for passengers.

After that, we had flights running with slightly economically better results comparatively.

How do you view the present situation? Tourism and travel seem to be getting back on track, so what are your plans as an international airline?

If we look at the current status of Himalaya Airlines, we are doing fairly fine. We have good utilization of our aircraft, key resources such as cockpit crew, cabin crew, maintenance, etc. Hence, our operations are reasonably fine compared to several airlines around the world. So in that way at present, we are in a good position.

We want to continue this kind of operation, the current operation we have is for the Middle East, Malaysia and Dhaka. We have four passenger flights and four cargo flights to China.

In the future, our plan is to open to Chinese airports, because one of the key purposes of Himalaya Airlines is to promote Nepalese tourism. If we look at our traffic composition, a majority of passengers almost 90% of them are Nepalese travelers and we take pride in serving Nepalese citizens. Having said that, we also want to promote Nepal’s tourism and tourism arrivals in Nepal, So in the future, we want to increase tourist arrivals and we want to resume our new operations to places like China and connect 10 points in China. We intend to bring 1 million arrivals in the future, that is our target milestone. In the future, we will be operating as many flights as possible to China and other sectors as we want to focus on the direct arrival of tourist passengers to Nepal. Of course, the market is very sensitive and changeable, so we will move accordingly.

Photo: Bidhyash Dangol
Photo: Bidhyash Dangol

What plans are there to create greater synergy with Nepal’s tourism industry and stakeholders to partner and promote more tourism to Nepal?

In the past, we have worked with Nepal Tourism Board, different tourism stakeholders, and private tourism organizations. So we would like to work with principal stakeholders.

We want to work commercially with Nepal Tourism Board and in their promotional efforts; we want to collaborate with them. Being a national tourism marketing organization, they have to come forward with concrete plans where we can partner with them.

In a similar manner, we want to work with PATA, NATO, NATA, HAN and all the associations who are important organizations from our perspective. We want such organizations to come to us with their specific plans that are result-driven, and then we will be more than happy to work with them. In the past as well, we have had several discussions with Nepal Tourism Board and have worked with them for promotion in certain destinations like Malaysia. I hope we can collaborate in a more dense and wide manner with them, especially for promotion in China. 

Photo: Bidhyash Dangol
Photo: Bidhyash Dangol

What are your future plans in terms of expansion of destinations or fleet?

I have to mention that Himalaya is a growing airline, and it will continue to grow every year. We have a very clear vision about the future; we want to be the most contributing airline for tourism to Nepal as well as to the economy of Nepal. We will be the airline that brings in the largest number of tourists to the country, that is our main vision and we are driven by this.

In order to attain that purpose, to transform that vision into reality, we will continuously expand our fleet, strengthen our position in the market and reach more crucial productive destinations in China as well as elsewhere. China being the largest and most lucrative market for tourism will be a key market for us but we will also go for other markets as well.

Will you expand your bases within Nepal with the new intentional airports coming online?

TIA will be our primary base of operation as of now. Shifting of base or expanding to the next base is a very expensive affair. We are not like other foreign operators who can come or leave as the market determines. We are a private Nepalese airline and we will have to make huge investments to set up a new base.

Nonetheless, we are cautiously positive towards Pokhara International Airport as well as Gautam Buddha International Airport. But at this stage, we are only looking into feasibility analysis of economics, of market and safety and stability of operations. These three key factors will determine whether it will be viable for us to move into other airports of the country. 


VIJAY SHRESTHA Himalaya Airlines Editorial Advisor anniversary earthquake passengers Nepalese tourism Nepal Tourism Board Pokhara International Airport Gautam Buddha International Airport
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