Madan Kharel, who vehemently opposed the idea of procuring wide-body airplanes for the Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) calling it an accident waiting to happen, has been appointed its executive head with the main responsibility of managing the newly procured two wide-body Airbus planes.
Kharel, who has worked for the national-flag carrier for over three decades starting as an officer, will be the executive head of the organization for the second time after his appointment as executive chairman of the NAC board on Sunday reportedly on wish of Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli.
Managing Director (MD) Sugat Ratna Kansakar, who oversaw purchase of four new Airbus planes including two narrow-body ones, has been limited to a board member after appointment of Kharel who had first succeeded Kansakar as MD five years ago before resigning a year later to pave the way for return of Kansakar.
Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari was against appointment of Kharel as executive chairman with eight months of Kansakar’s term still remaining apparently fearing the chaos two executive heads in a single institution may bring should Kansakar refuse to resign as he has now done.
But the ministry had to take the proposal for Kharel’s appointment to the Cabinet on direct instruction of KP Oli. “Minister Adhikari was for changing the leadership only after expiry of MD’s term eight months later. But it was done now due to wish of the top level,” a ministry source confided with Setopati.
The reason for PM Oli to insist for Kharel’s appointment right now is not yet clear but Kansakar has been accused of irregularities during procurement of the four planes worth Rs 24 billion and failure to prepare proper plan for operation of the wide-body planes.
Kharel takes over the reins at a time when NAC is struggling with just two of its nine planes for domestic flights currently in operation and is forced to operate the wide-body planes in the shorter routes of narrow-body planes.
The NAC currently has two new wide-body Airbus, two new narrow-body Airbus and one narrow-body Boeing. But it has struggled to expand the market in lack of proper management and plans.
The biggest challenge for Kharel will be the operation of two wide-body 274-seaters procured with an aim of starting long-distance flights to Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
The NAC has yet to acquire permission to fly to those countries and is forced to operate the big planes in short routes with very low occupancy resulting in loss of hundreds of thousands in each flight.
Kharel, ironically, had vehemently opposed the NAC’s plan to procure new wide-body planes. Talking to Nepal weekly published on November 6, 2016, he had argued that the NAC should not procure wide-body planes at a time when it was struggling to properly operate even a single narrow-body Boeing.
He had argued that the NAC should opt for wide-body planes only after building its management capacity and expertise by expanding the regional market through operation of short-distance flights with the narrow-body plane.
He had claimed that the NAC in the current organizational structure cannot operate wide-body planes and added that it should look to buy big planes only after bringing in a strategic partner or awarding management contract to another company.
“Bringing wide-body planes should be done simultaneously with bringing a strategic partner. There can be an alternative of bringing a strategic partner or management contract. We should take that forward together. We should not move forward on whims without doing that. That can invite accident,” he was quoted by Nepal.
Kharel has now returned to the NAC when the organization seems to be heading toward the accident that Kharel had ominously predicted.
Responding to Setopati’s question about how he will avert the accident he had predicted after being appointed executive chairman, Kharel said he will now focus on internal study and prepare a detailed action plan in a short time.
“I have arrived with determination and courage to operate the planes the NAC has procured and to uplift the NAC.”