Domestic airline operators in Nepal have warned of stern protests which could go up to suspending flights across the country that could negatively impact thousands of local and foreign passengers.
The private airline operators made the announcement on Friday after the government failed to roll back its decision to hike aviation turbine fuel (ATF).
On Sept. 10, the state-owned oil monopoly, Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) had raised ATF by Rs 7 per liter to Rs 137 per liter for domestic airlines.
In response to the hike, private airlines also hiked fuel surcharge on air tickets by up to Rs 80 to Rs 270. Domestic airlines are permitted to increase fuel surcharge if fuel prices go up by Rs 4 and above.
However, following the decline in the number of passengers flow, the Airline Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN), the apex body of the private airline operators, initiated protest against the repeated hikes in ATF price from Sept. 26.
Employees and executives across all airlines wore a black arm band while at their place of work for two hours, as a symbolic protest on Wednesday, and a full day on Thursday.
Meanwhile, domestic airport counters were tagged with a message: "why is the burden of increased fuel price passed onto air travellers only?"
Even though the AOAN had previously announced to launch stern strike from Friday, it postponed it due to the upcoming festive season, aiming at not to put the passengers at difficulty.
"If the government still does not fulfill our demands, we will gradually begin suspending our services across the country after Chat," Rameshwar Thapa, president of AOAN told Xinhua.
Chat festival falls on Nov. 9 follows Nepal's major festivals Dashain and Tihar.
Thapa said the airline operators will begin suspending their flights by two hours a day across the country, if the government still does not show seriousness to resolve the problem.
"The hours of flights suspension will go up gradually up to fully stoppage of the service," Ghanshyam Acharya, spokesperson of the AOAN told Xinhua.
AOAN statistics says around 5,000 passengers take local airlines service in a day at an average. The number goes up as much as 50 percent during Nepal's festive season.
"However, due to the hike in price, the airlines passengers has gone down significantly even though this is the festive season," added Thapa.
The AOAN also demands introduction of scientific procedure for the increment in the price of ATF. The private airline operators have been blaming the government of making haphazard increment in the fuel.
Accroding to estimation of domestic airlines, fuel alone accounts for 40 percent of the operating cost. In addition, weather and runway problems have been adding an additional 5 percent burden on the top of the operating costs.
Domestic passenger movement through Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) dropped 3.6 percent year-on-year to 772,873 in the first six months of 2013.
In the last one and half years, air fares have gone up by Rs 2, 500 on long-haul routes and Rs 1,000-1,200 on short-haul sectors, and the impact has been visible, with the number of air travellers decreasing.
NOC currently enjoys a profit of Rs 27.51 on a liter of aviation fuel sold to domestic airlines. Airline officials said it was not justifiable to take such a huge profit from aviation fuel in the name of offsetting NOC's losses.