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The Government of Nepal has started doing homework to sign a bilateral air services agreement (ASA) with Cambodia. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) has said that talks are being held with concerned authorities of Cambodia to finalise and sign the agreement for direct flights between the two countries.

Once the pact is signed, it will be for the first time that Nepal and Cambodia will have direct flight links. The MoCTCA has informed that it has completed the draft of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) after holding negotiations with Cambodian officials.

As per Suresh Acharya, joint secretary at MoCTCA, preparations are underway and if officials of both countries agree to provisions of the initial draft of MoU then it will be finalised and an agreement will be inked by end of November.

So far, Nepal has signed air services agreements with 38 countries.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen is set to arrive in Nepal on an official state visit on November 30. The MoCTCA plans to ink the MoU on this occasion, informed Acharya.

As per Acharya, the new agreement will let the world know that Nepal is ready to provide safe and reliable air services to newer destinations. The pact is expected to facilitate movement of pilgrims from Cambodia, a Buddhist nation, to Lumbini birthplace of Lord Buddha.

“This agreement will help bring in more tourists from Cambodia, increase our capacity and enhance healthy competition, and help in meeting our objective of bringing in two million tourists by 2020,” said Acharya.

With expectations that the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa will begin operations by 2019, there are more foreign airline companies that are willing to fly to Nepal at present. As per Acharya, airlines of Buddhist nations seem to be more willing to operate flights to Lumbini.

He also confirmed that the Cabinet had given its approval to MoCTCA to sign the air services agreement with Cambodia. Currently, details regarding flight frequency, code sharing, cargo and other issues are under discussion.

In a recent development, Nepal also revised the ASA with Thailand and has increased the number of weekly flights from 10 to 28. The 47-year-old bilateral ASA on Grant of Rights, Cooperative Marketing Agreement, Aviation Security and Aviation Safety, signed between Nepal and Thailand was amended on November 3.

In the past, Nepal could not give continuity to international flights to many destinations as domestic airline companies did not have a sufficient number of planes and some aircraft of Nepal Airlines Corporation had been grounded for long. However, at present NAC has acquired two long-range 274-seater Airbus 330-200 aircraft and is eyeing to increase the number of direct flights to more destinations.

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