Recently, I went to Nepal from Dubai for a flying adventure. There are many turboprops flying domestically inside Nepal, such as ATR, J-41, Let-410, Twin Otter, Dornier Do-228, MA-60, Y-12 etc. It is a heaven for turboprop lovers. Most turboprops operating in Nepal are unpressurized, flying only on visual flight rules (VFR) which makes flying more exciting between the mountains in this land locked country. Flying is not only luxury, but a necessity for those in Nepal.
I chose a new airline, Himalaya Airlines from Dubai. They operate out of Terminal 2. We took off on-time around 4am in the morning. Once boarded, I was greeted by the sheer condensation coming off from the air conditioning due to humidity. I was pleasantly surprised that Himalaya Airlines is not a low cost airline! I was given a full meal on my flight. The cabin configuration of their A320 is C8Y150. (8 Business Class and 150 Economy Class)
The view into Kathmandu Valley was really amazing, we flew in between two mountains. We were on hold for 45 minutes as the runway in Kathmandu reportedly had cracks. After nearly an hour hold, we were eventually cleared for landing.
Watch the amazing approach into Kathmandu on my video below.
After landing at Kathmandu Tribhuvan Int'l airport, we were parked on a remote stand as there are no airbridges at all in this airport. I was able to spot quite many Nepal Airlines fleet on the ramp including both B757, A320 and new A330-200.
After arrival, I went to Nepal Airlines office in downtown Kathmandu to buy a ticket to fly the Chinese made MA-60 and Y-12. One can't book these domestic flights on the internet so you have to be present in Nepal to do so.
Be aware Nepal use two tier pricing system, the airfare for foreigner are 3-4 times higher than locals. One way domestic flight costs around USD100-150 so it is not cheap at all.
I bought a roundtrip ticket from Kathmandu to Biratnagar on the MA-60 and a roundtrip from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa on the Y-12E.
The next morning I went to the domestic terminal at 6am as all domestic flight departs very early after sunrise. The domestic terminal received a new extension of check-in hall but still look very simple.
All flight boarding is done by bus to the remote apron. You can get some good views and take photos around.
My ride to Biratnagar on Nepal Airlines MA-60, 9N-AKR.
Xian MA-60 is a stretched version of the Xian Y7-200A,which was produced based on the An-24 to operate in rugged conditions with limited ground support and has short take-off and landing (STOL) capability.
Passengers climbed through a set of stairs from the rear to board the turboprop. There are total of 56 seats in the fairly modern cabin. The engine is from Pratt & Whitney. Pilots are very friendly in Nepal, I was able to visit the cockpit during the flight.
We were very lucky to have a clear sky of flying SE direction to Biratnagar. Flight time was 40 minutes, cruising at 13,500 above sea level and flying speed was 200 knots. The plane was fairly noisy with some vibration but not as bad as the Antonov-140 I flew in Ukraine a few weeks ago.
During the turn-around at Biratnagar, I was able to stay on the plane without re-check in. I spent the 30 mins taking pictures and walking around the MA-60.
On the way back, we were served a large pack of peanuts and drinks.
Warning: Do not try to sit in Row 1. The legroom is dismal! I sat there just for a picture posing! 🙂
I was fortunate enough to be able to stand behind the cockpit to watch the approach into Kathmandu Valley. The views were simply breathtaking! Check out my video for the approach!
After landing, we parked next to another MA-60 of Nepal Airlines; which was engine-less. I was told it hasn't flown for nearly a year! Both MA-60 were gifts from the Chinese government to Nepal Airlines.
My next flight Harbin Y-12 is parked right next to the MA-60 on the apron. Nepal Airlines owns 4 Y-12 planes and only 2 are in active service. There was also a shortage of pilot who can fly this plane.
The Harbin Y-12 is a high wing twin-engine turboprop utility aircraft built by Harbin Aircraft Industry Group (HAIG).
The power plants are two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-27 turboprops with Hartzell propellers. The Y-12 has a maximum takeoff weight of 5,700 kg (12,600 lb) with seating for 17 passengers and two crew. The aircraft is operated as a light commuter and transport aircraft.
Flight to Bhairahawa took about 42 minutes, we flew at 8,500 above sea level with 140 knots speed. The air traffic congestion at Kathmandu Airport is seriously of concern due to the single taxiway and runway with backtrack departures. We were held for 30 minutes before given our departure slot.
I like the extra large windows on the Y-12 which allow great sightseeing. Pilots told me the plane has performance issue. They need a lot of experience pilot to fly this type. See the video interview.
After landing, I went to an Aviation Museum near the airport where it turned a crash landed Turkish Airlines A330, into a museum. The Turkish jet skid off runway after landing in 2015 and it was damaged beyond repairs.
It is quite interesting the rear of the A330 turned into a cafe with the original galley as kitchen. The forward cargo hold of A330 is now a meeting room!
Flying in Nepal is certainly an adventure and story to tell by itself. I've two amazing round-trips flights with some of the best pilots flying in difficult condition.
The Pro: You can sit behind the cockpit on many smaller turboprops which gives you a great view of the pilot flying. The views underneath are really amazing. You will really enjoy the fun of flying!
The Con: Many flights are prone to be delayed and subject to weather condition. Sometimes the delay can be days due to poor visibility. Domestic flight tickets are expensive due to the two tier pricing system for local and foreigners.