This new chartered air service company is gathering momentum to fly high in the Nepali skies.
--BY BIJAY LAXMI DUWAL
Kailash Helicopter Services (KHS) Pvt Ltd, the newest helicopter service company in Nepal, has been able to carve out a separate identity and position for itself in the country's aviation sector within a short span of its establishment. Though KHS was incorporated on Dec 6, 2017, it started commercial operation from March 23, 2018. The company is a synergistic form of eight young eminent entrepreneurs with experience in various relevant sectors including tourism, hospitality, banking and aviation. It mainly aims to provide premium and quality helicopter services in the domestic market for Nepalis as well as foreigners. "It's been just about four months since we started our services but we are doing quite well, contributing to the country's tourism sector as well," says Pratap Jung Pandey, managing director of the company.
A team of young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs who were looking for a 'unique and profitable' sector to invest in started their journey into the country's aviation sector through KHS. Pandey, previously a banker, says, “After quitting the banking sector, I explored different sectors which could be flourished in Nepal. Our chairman Ashish Sherchan was also trying to investment in a new sector. Meanwhile, we realized that tourism had better prospects than other industrial sectors. In tourism too, we decided to grow our existence through the aviation sector. That is how KHS came into existence.”
KHS started the commercial operation of its services after receiving the Aviation Operation Certificate (AOC) on March 23, 2018. “It took us a year to start commercial operation after registering the company,” shares Pandey.
The company’s board of directors includes a group of young entrepreneurs including Captain Ashish Sherchan, Pratap Jung Pandey, Iswari Prasad Paudel, Sunil Shrestha, Shree Ram KC, Ramesh Pandit and Shree Hari Kuikel. As all of them already had more than a decade of experience in the relevant sectors, it was not difficult for them to start the company.
Ashish Sherchan, chairman of the company, has an experience of more than 23 years in the aviation sector. He is also one of the pilots of the company. Prior to the start of KHS, he was the executive director at Fishtail Air Pvt Ltd. Similarly, Pratap Jung Pandey, who did his MBA from the Philippines, had two decades of banking experience before he ventured into the aviation sector. “Both banking and aviation are regulated sectors. Since I came from the corporate culture, I didn’t feel difficulties while shifting from banking to aviation,” he shares. Pandey is also associated with different insurance companies including IME General Insurance and Citizens Life Insurance Co. The company’s director Shree Hari Kuikel is a promoter who has 23 years of experience in the aviation sector.
Another promoter Sunil Shrestha is from the tourism and transportation sector. He has been operating two hotels- Holy Himalaya and Hotel Moonlight. Likewise, Director Shree Ram KC, too, is from the travel and tourism sector. Director Ramesh Poudel is from the transportation sector and housing sector. Another promoter CN Pandey is the president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA).
“Or core team is our main strength,” shares Pandey.
Helicopters and Services
KHS is running its commercial helicopter services through two choppers of Eurocopter (now Airbus), namely the five-seater AS350B2 and six-seater AS 350 B3e (H125). The variants of Airbus were manufactured in France. The helicopters owned by KHS are the proven choppers in terms of compliance, flight safety and other track records. According to Pandey, the choppers have the capacity to fly at an altitude of up to 23,000 feet. The company operates only chartered flights.
Apart from the regular operations, the company offers other services such as medical and emergency evacuation, human and cargo sling operations, high altitude operations, topographic mapping, research for hydropower projects, aerial survey, sightseeing, mountain flights, special adventure missions, corporate flights and rescue operations during natural disasters. The service is offered by the company at any place within the territory of Nepal during day time. Pandey says, “Some heli operators may provide sling services while others may not but we provide both human sling as well as cargo sling services.”
The company is playing a vital role in medical evacuation. The company is punctual in providing its services. “We have been able to save the lives of many patients through our service at low cost. We also rescued Nepali climbers trapped on camp II of Mt Everest in May. We succeeded in saving their lives through our service on time. Recently, we rescued a Swedish lady trapped on Mt Makalu in July,” says Pandey adding that the company has been providing rescue services at the regular rate. However, the company offers medical evacuation services at lower costs to the needy and sick Nepalis. The minimum price of its service ranges from $1500 to $1800 for both tourists and Nepali customers. The cost for sightseeing is higher than of other services.
Being the newest among the ten operating aviation companies in Nepal, KHS is planning to expand its services. The company aims to be one of the top three companies providing helicopter services in Nepal over the next five years.“We have received No Objection Certificate for three helicopters. Currently, we are operating only two choppers. We will add one more helicopter to our fleet in the near future,” shares Pandey, adding “We are also expanding our services gradually. We are planning to develop new routes and destinations. We are focusing on the unexplored areas where other companies have not focused so far.
Pandey says the company has lots of opportunities as the government has announced year 2020 as Visit Nepal Year, targeting to welcome two million tourists. “460,000 tourists have visited Nepal in the last six months of this year. This data has raised hope of welcoming one million tourists in 2018,” Pandey says, “The construction of an international airport in Bhairahawa and a regional international airport in Pokhara is underway. Expanding the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu is also in the pipeline. This means opportunities for both aviation and tourism industries.” Pandey says that unless the airports in the country are expanded, the tourism sector cannot grow as airports are the main doorway for foreigners to enter Nepal.
In general, helicopters are suitable for providing transportation services to and from the remote areas lacking access to roads. KHS has been carrying out rescue services in such areas. On the other hand, Nepal is gradually developing with the expansion of infrastructure development including transportation in the remote areas. Pandey says, “With the development of infrastructures in the rural areas, the utilization of helicopters can be decreased. However, we can take this threat as an opportunity to reach there with other alternative activities.”
According to Pandey, there is a need for improvement in the overall policies, besides creating suitable environment for new industries in the country. Since the aviation industry is also one of the sources of earning foreign currency, Pandey argues, the government should consider relaxing the taxes in the sector. "The government should provide tax exemptions considering the aviation industry as a special industry," he says.
He adds that given the difficult terrains of Nepal, the insurance cost for the aviation industry is also too high due to the high risk of accidents.
"Though Nepal Rastra Bank has prioritised investment in tourism in the monetary policy unveiled recently, the interest rate on bank loans is still high. We could run our services at a lower operational cost if the interest rate is decreased giving priority to the tourism sector," Pandey concludes.