During President Bidhyadevi Bhandari’s visit to Bangladesh this week, Nepal has expressed special desire to immediately launch the Syedpur-Biratnagar flight connecting the two countries within 20 minutes, officials said.
Bangladesh welcomed Nepal’s proposal and now a formal proposal will be submitted to the Bangladesh government to implement it, said the Nepali Ambassador in Dhaka.
There is a direct flight between Nepal and Bangladesh connecting Kathmandu, which is said to be visited by about 30,000 Bangladeshis every year.
Officials expect the new air route to expand the link between the two countries and help attract more tourists to Nepal.
Discussion of the new air route
The new air route was discussed in a press release issued by Bangladesh’s foreign ministry on Tuesday after President Bhandari’s two-day visit.
The statement said that Nepal wanted to start direct flights from Syedpur Airport in Bangladesh to Biratnagar or Bhadrapur Airport in Eastern Nepal and that was welcomed by Bangladesh.
Nepal’s Ambassador to Dhaka Vansidhar Mishra said that 20 million citizens of North East Bangladesh would be able to travel to Nepal easily if the air service was operated.
“We have proposed to strengthen the communication network so that more Bangladeshi citizens can go to Nepal and Nepalis can also come. From Syedpur Airport, Bhadrapur Airport can be reached in about 15 minutes and Biratnagar Airport in about 20 minutes.”
This time, during President Bhandari’s two-day visit to Bangladesh, it was agreed to move the process forward, said Ambassador Mishra.
He said, “The Bangladesh government is currently expanding Syedpur Airport as a regional airport. This time we are working on the expansion but in the current situation, we have said that ATR planes carrying around 70 seats can be operated immediately.”
As there is more infrastructure than Bhadrapur, Nepal has set a target to connect Syedpur and Biratnagar airports in the first phase.
Ambassador Mishra added, “Bangladesh is very positive and agrees with our proposal. The Prime Minister of that country has emphasized on it. Nepal has promised to send a formal proposal as soon as possible. Good news will come soon.”
In addition, air travel from Biratnagar to study a large number of students from Nepal seems to save both money and time.
Also of strategic importance
Speaking to BBC Bangla, Golam Moazim, research director at the Center for Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh, said both countries would benefit.
He said, “Nepal is dependent on Indian ports for all its international trade. Due to that, Nepal has also faced difficulties. Nepal has been looking for alternative routes for a long time.”
Mentioning that Nepal can also import fuel through Syedpur, Golam Moazim said that the decision to connect China with the railway network shows that Nepal aims to reduce its dependence on India.
After returning from a visit to India in October 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she had been advising Bhutan and Nepal to use the Syedpur airport if they wished.
The work initiated by the Bangladeshi government to develop Syedpur as an international airport will be completed within the next four years.
What’s the benefit?
Nepal is popular among Bangladeshi tourists but it is said that the flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu is expensive and it is difficult to get a transit visa to enter Nepal via India.
Saima Haque Bidisa, who teaches economics at Dhaka University, says that Syedpur will give her the opportunity to reach Nepal in a short time at a low cost.
“Properly planned, Nepal can be a potential market for Bangladesh. The more connected it is, the more profitable it is. As Nepal is an import-dependent country, Bangladesh can benefit from Nepal’s expanding market.”
Bangladesh exports jute, readymade garments, medicines, and cosmetics to Nepal.
Nepal is currently running a trade deficit with Bangladesh.
Looking at the figures for the first seven months of this fiscal year, Nepal has exported about Rs. 360 million and imported more than Rs. 3 billion.
Director of Research Gola Moazim said that the launch of the Syedpur-Biratnagar air route would be of great benefit to Bangladesh.
Currently, Biman Bangladesh is flying directly from Dhaka, and Himalaya Airlines is flying direct from Kathmandu to Nepal Bangladesh.
According to Mishra, Nepal’s ambassador to Dhaka, the opening of the Syedpur-Biratnagar route will open the way for many other private airlines in Nepal to fly to Bangladesh.