In what could be termed as increasing Chinese engagement in this country, Nepal and China revised their bilateral air service agreement (ASA) by increasing flight frequencies four-fold from 14 to 56 a week.
Under the revised pact signed Monday, an additional seven flights per week will be added annually to 70 flights per week by 2016.
This pact is almost a unilateral one as no Nepali airline operates services to its northern neighbour. All these flights will be operated by the Chinese side.
The new ASA has also permitted both sides unlimited traffic rights for cargo-only flights with any type of aircraft and permitted bilateral and third-party code-sharing by carriers of the two countries.
According to Nepal's ministry of culture, tourism and civil aviation, Nepali and Chinese carriers can operate from seven Chinese cities - Chengdu, Lhasa, Beijing, Kunming, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian. China has also agreed to open the route from Kathmandu to Lhasa, the nearest city from Nepal and with which Nepal has historical trade ties.
The Kathmandu-Lhasa route would be one of the most expensive in the world as a one-way ticket would cost $450.
Lhasa is connected to a few Chinese cities, while from outside the country, it is only connected to Kathmandu. The Chinese side also "firmly" approved the access of new Trans-Himalaya 1 (Bangkok-Kolkata-Nepalgunj-Indek in Pakistan), 2 and 3 airspace for international traffic. Nepal had proposed the three air routes at different meetings of the International Civil Aviation Organisation and other forums.
Among them, the most beneficial route is the Trans-Himalaya 2 and required much effort by Nepal to bring India and China on board. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had kept the route as a future requirement.
The opening of this airspace will allow international airlines to fly in Nepali airspace, which means savings in fuel and distance for carriers and revenue for Nepal.
However, on Nepal's request for allowing "circle navigation flights" for Nepali helicopters to Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet, the Chinese side said it would consider the proposal after holding discussions with the authorities concerned, Nepali government officials said.
Secretary of Nepal's tourism ministry Sushil Ghimire and Civil Aviation Administration of China's Deputy Administrator Xia Xinghua signed the revised ASA on behalf of their respective governments.
"With the agreement, our relations with China have strengthened further in the aviation sector," said Ghimire.
The two countries had signed their first ASA in 2003 and Air China opened a direct air link between China and Nepal in 2004.
(Anil Giri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)