Buddha Air (U4, Kathmandu) is forging ahead with plans to establish a wholly-owned subsidiary operating STOL-enabled aircraft beginning September 2021 in order to reach remote airfields in Nepal, according to Managing Director Birendra Bahadur Basnet.

He told The Kathmandu Post that Buddha Air plans to invest over NPR500 million rupees (USD4.2 million) in the initial phase of the short-take-off-and-landing operation, excluding the NPR250 million (USD2.1 million) capital required to establish the new company.

He said the airline had begun the process to select the appropriate aircraft and a decision would be made within the next three months. According to Basnet, the airline had narrowed down the choice of aircraft to the twin-engine 19-seater Let 410; the DHC-6, and the Cessna (twin turboprop) 408 SkyCourier being developed by Textron Aviation.

He said the plan was to start operations with three aircraft in the first phase, serving the eastern region from Ramechhap and the western region from Pokhara

Buddha Air currently has a fleet of eleven turbo-props: three stored ATR42-300s and eight active ATR72-500s, according to the ch-aviation fleets ownership module.

The airline’s entry into the STOL market comes after Nepal Airlines (RA, Kathmandu) in July 2020 retired all six of its Chinese-made aircraft - twos MA-60 and four Y12s – as they were ill-suited to serve Nepal's mountain airports with their short runways and extremely high elevations. The state airline still operates two DHC-6-300s; as well as two A320-200 and two A330-200s on international routes, the ch-aviation schedules reveals.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has been pushing for more services to the country’s remote airstrips to improve regional connectivity. CAAN has been working with provincial governments to develop a new funding system where 40% of seats would be subsidised to encourage flying to rural and mountain areas, CAAN Director-General Rajan Pokhrel told The Kathmandu Post.

Nepal has some of the highest airports/airfields in the world, including Syangboche Airport (SYH) at 3,780m above mean sea level; Manang at 3,353m; Simikot at 2,818m; Lukla at 2,774m; and Jomsom at 2,736m, all of which are currently only served by Summit Air (Nepal) (Kathmandu), according to the ch-aviation capacities module.