Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Govt weighing options to airlift aviation fuel

Sep 30, 2015- The government on Wednesday formed a committee to recommend options to fly in aviation fuel for domestic airlines amid mounting fears that the country's airlines could be grounded for lack of fuel.

Surface transportation has been largely crippled due to gasoline shortages and a long-running agitation in the southern Tarai belt that has cut off major highways. 

The seven-member panel under the coordination of Tourism Joint Secretary Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane has been told to submit its recommendations by 11am on Thursday.

International airlines serving Nepal have already been told to carry return fuel as they will not be able to refuel at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu which is fresh out of stock.

As the store of aviation fuel kept for domestic airlines has started to go down at a faster rate with a sudden rise in the number of air travelers, the government is worried that domestic carriers could be immobilized on the eve of the festival season in Nepal. The daily fuel requirement of domestic airlines stands at 50,000 litres.

Suresh Acharya, joint secretary of the Tourism Ministry, said that a meeting held between the Home and Supplies ministries, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) and Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) discussed three options to forestall an expected aviation turbine fuel (ATF) crisis by bringing fuel by air.

The first option discussed was to use Russian Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft, a heavy transport jet, that can transport up to 50 kilolitres of fuel. Using Mi-17 helicopters to transport fuel from cross-border points to oil depots in the Tarai where domestic aircraft can refuel. An Mi-17 can ferry up to 4 tonnes of fuel.

The third option proposed at the meeting was to request China and the US Air Force to airlift jet fuel. The meeting has also decided to request Nepali private helicopter companies to transport fuel. Likewise, the option to use NAC's jets to airlift fuel has been kept open.

“The committee has been directed to conduct a study of the technical and financial aspects of airlifting fuel,” said Acharya, adding that the plan submitted by the committee would be tabled at higher levels of the government. After the government approves the scheme, formal talks will be held with the parties concerned.

Most international airlines serving Nepal have changed aircraft and their refueling points after being informed by Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) that it would be halting refueling services at TIA from Tuesday.


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