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China’s Silk Road in the Sky

Feb 13 2017 | 11:38 am

Beijing: Chinese aviation executive Zhang Guangjian was surprised when thousands of people turned out to welcome his flight from Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu to Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace.

The China-made MA60 aircraft, brandishing a red dot on its nose from a religious blessing ceremony, was the first new aircraft for the national carrier, Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), in about 30 years.

“Now, we are creating history again with the delivery of two more planes,” says Zhang, chairman of AVIC International Aero-Development Corporation.

One China-made 56-seat MA60 regional aircraft and a 17-seat Y-12E were delivered to NAC on Wednesday from AVIC International, a subsidiary of state-owned aviation giant China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC).

CONNECTING PEOPLE

The delivery is a major step in improving mountainous Nepal’s domestic transport network and a major contribution to China’s international “Belt and Road” initiative.

This is the second delivery of China-made aircraft to Nepal after an MA60 and a Y-12E were delivered to NAC in 2014.

“It is mutually beneficial cooperation. We bring China’s aviation products and services, while our customers receive cost-effective and reliable aircraft,” says Zhang.

Both models “perfectly match” the natural and geographical environments of Nepal, with its mountains and plateaus as well as its climatic variations.

“Aircraft are the most appropriate modern vehicles for mountainous Nepal,” says Jeeva Bahadur Shahi, Nepal’s Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. “They are of critical importance to poor people in remote regions. Air fares should be affordable. The Chinese planes are just right.”

The turboprop MA60 is manufactured by AVIC Xi’an Aircraft Industry Company Ltd. in northwest China’s Xi’an, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, and is designed for short airstrips.

The Y-12 series, manufactured by AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry Company Ltd., is a regional turboprop aircraft designed for passenger, cargo and emergency rescue flights in plateau or mountainous regions.

It has obtained certifications from the Civil Aviation Certification of China (CAAC) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The MA60 and Y-12E will fly a total of 32 services on NAC’s domestic routes each week.

MUTUAL BENEFITS

“With the delivery of new planes, NAC will open more routes. They are critical to the rejuvenation of the national carrier,” says NAC managing director Sugat Rana Kansakar.

The Chinese aircraft are expected to lift NAC’s share of the domestic aviation market from about 6 percent to about 20 percent, servicing 20 of the country’s 50-odd airports.

“The new planes perform well and the Chinese side has promised to provide support in parts, maintenance and pilot training. More Chinese planes are expected to join the fleet,” he says.

The aircraft deliveries were agreed by the Chinese and Nepalese governments in 2013.

One MA60 and a Y-12E were delivered in 2014. Since then, the MA60 has flown more than 2,200 flights and the Y-12E 1,000, boosting tourism as well as emergency services.

In April 2015, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake jolted Nepal, causing enormous casualties and damage.

“During the aftershocks, we arrived at the airport to help protect the planes and the NAC crews. Luckily, they were not damaged,” says Yang Kunbang, deputy managing director of the civil aviation division of AVIC International.

AVIC International’s project leader in Nepal, Yang and 11 colleagues worked to help resume flights as quickly as possible.

During the rescue operations, the two aircraft flew eight times a day in total, shuttling the injured and taking emergency supplies to remote regions.

WIDER WORLD

As part of China’s effort to strengthen regional cooperation, its “Belt and Road” initiative aims to realize benefit-sharing and common prosperity. China’s aviation industry is working with other countries to create “Silk Road in the sky”.

“Air connectivity means not only more aircraft in the sky, but also more airports on the ground, maintenance and professional personnel,” says Zhang.

Those factors sustain the development of the aviation industry.

AVIC is working with Nepal’s aviation industry to build modern hangars, and provide technical support and training.

“We are exploring effective ways to combine the advantageous resources of technology, products, capital and markets of nations along the ‘Belt and Road’ to share development achievements,” says Zhang.

China has also pledged to strengthen aviation cooperation with African countries by accelerating work on jointly running airlines, technology and aircraft exports.

Zhang says China’s aviation industry is cultivating markets worldwide: “We are holding firm in African markets, competing in Asian markets, exploring South American countries, and starting to study the European and North American markets.” Xinhua

Panipokhari

Kathmandu, Nepal

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