Air India to lose Kathmandu-Kolkata monopoly

August 25th, 2010 - 1:53 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Aug 25 (IANS) From Oct 1, India’s national carrier Air India will lose its monopoly on the Kolkata-Kathmandu-Kolkata sector with independent Nepali airline Buddha Air beginning its inaugural flights between the two cities.

The 13-year Nepali airline, which went international this month by becoming the first foreign airline to fly to the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, may not just end Air India’s stranglehold on this sector but outpace it totally with plans to operate seven flights weekly while Air India runs just four flights a week.

Besides an embassy in New Delhi, Nepal also has a consulate in Kolkata.

Air India will also lose its monopoly on the Kathmandu-Varanasi sector with Buddha Air beginning four flights a week between the two cities from Oct 15. From the same day, it will also start flights to Lucknow, which till now has no direct air link with Kathmandu.

According to Buddha’s marketing chief Rupesh Josi, the airline is eyeing more Indian cities. It is keen to start flights to Patna and is ready to do so from Oct 15 provided the Indian authorities give the green light.

Due to the inadequacies of the airport at Patna, especially its small departure hall, the Indian aviation authorities are yet to clear the proposal.

Buddha Air, which currently covers nine destinations in Nepal and an additional mountain flight, also plans to begin flights to more Indian cities after it leases a second 72-seater aircraft in December.

Presently, the airline has just one 72-seater aircraft in addition to four 18-seaters and three 47-seaters.

“We plan flights to Dehra Dun and Guwahati in the next phase, around Feb-March 2011,” Joshi says.

“Right now, we have flights to Bhadrapur (on the Indo-Nepal border). We also plan to extend that to the Bagdogra airport (in India) that’s just 30 minutes’ flying time away.”

This month, Buddha Air went international with four flights a week to Paro in Bhutan. Now it plans flights from Paro to Bagdogra as well as Kathmandu to Bagdogra.

While the fares to the Indian cities will be competitive, for the first month, Buddha will have promotional fares substantially cheaper, which will hit Air India.

Fliers never had it so good as in 2005 when Nepali budget airline Cosmic Air - with its marketing gimmick of buy one, get one free - muscled into Air India’s monopoly sector Kolkata and Varanasi and triggered a fare war.

Air India as well as Jet Airways and the then Sahara Airlines had to reduce their prices to keep up.

However, the bubble burst for Cosmic a year later when it had to suspend all its international flights and two years after that, it had to close.

Buddha’s India flights therefore will be scrutinised by the Indian buyer for staying power.

Unlike Air India, Jet and Kingfisher, a new entrant in Nepal, it is not eyeing New Delhi, the sector with the maximum rush, or Mumbai, at least not immediately.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at

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