Sugat Ratna Kansakar, Managing Director of Nepal Airlines Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The flag carrier of the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal is considering a major network expansion in an effort to help revitalise the country’s tourism industry.

Visitor numbers to Nepal fell by 32 per cent in 2015 after a series of earthquakes that year killed thousands and raised safety concerns in the country.

The country has since prioritised developments in its tourism industry, a major economic contributor, and the state-controlled Nepal Airlines is looking at more than doubling its international network to 19 destinations. It has announced it is resuming flights to Dubai on August 18 after a four-year hiatus and is to start flights to Guangzhou in China in October and then Dammam in Saudi Arabia.

The plans include starting flights to Osaka or Tokyo in Japan and Seoul in South Korea once it receives two Airbus A330s in late December, managing director Sugat Ratna Kansakar told Gulf News on Thursday.

“Our immediate target is to have a direct flight from Kathmandu to Japan and Kathmandu to South Korea … we already have air service agreements,” he said in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, it is considering whether it should launch flights to Beijing, Chengdu, Kunming and Shanghai in China, and to Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Tibet.

Nepal Airlines wants to target destinations where there is significant Buddhist populations. Nepal has several Buddhist pilgrimage sites including the birthplace of Buddha. The airline also hopes that by expanding its own network airfares to Nepal will become cheaper and more appealing to travellers.

“If we want to bring more and more tourists from Australia, New Zealand, America or Japan then we need to bring down the airfare,” Kansakar said

The expansion, however, will not take place overnight.

“We lack aircraft right now,” Kansakar said.

The airline currently has just four aircraft for international flights. Two new Airbus A320s and two out-of-production Boeing 757s, both narrow body aircraft. The 757s will be sold by the time the A330s arrive in late 2017, Kansakar said.

Nepal Airlines plans to expand its fleet by “one or two” aircraft over the next “few years” and is currently in talks with Airbus to purchase either two more A320s or two A319s with the airline

As part of its expansion plans, the airline also wants to increase flights to India, where it already flies to Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and will soon start flights to Kolkata, and to Thailand’s Bangkok.

Banned by European authorities from flying to European over safety concerns, Kansakar said Nepal Airlines has held interline agreement talks with Emirates, Etihad Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.

Emirates has told Gulf News in a statement that it is in “continuous discussions with potential partners,” however, the airline did not confirm or deny whether it had held such talks with Nepal Airlines.

“We will be ready to make an announcement about a new codeshare or interline partnership when the time is right.” Emirates said.