Officials have pointed out that paragliding flights cannot be carried out in the current location and conditions after the international airport was opened in Pokhara, a famous tourist city for adventure sports activities.
They say that since the Sarangkot area of Pokhara, where paragliding flights are currently taking place, is within the air flight perimeter, it may be a problem to do air flights and paragliding flights at the same time.
Tourism professionals have emphasized that a reliable alternative should be found so that air flights are not disrupted.
According to the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority, the Pokhara International Airport will open in Jan 2023.
Suvarnaraj Upadhyay, Head of the Air Traffic Management Department of Nepal Civil Aviation Authority, said that studies are being conducted to prevent paragliding from being displaced.
History of Paragliding in Pokhara
Tourism businessman Biru Bamjan and British citizen Adam Hill started paragliding activities in Pokhara in 1996.
Yogesh Bhattarai, the former president of the Nepal Air Sports Association, says that Bamjan and Hill registered Sunrise Paragliding as Nepal’s first paragliding company in the year 2000 and started professionally for the first time.
Rajesh Bamjan, Nepal’s first professional para pilot, says that in the early years, foreign para pilots dominated the commercial flights of paragliding and even solo flights.
More than 900 foreign nationals were busy in this sport every year, including solo flights and commercial flights. He said that the number of foreign pilots is decreasing as Nepalis have also started studying this sport in recent times.
It has been 25 years since adventure activities were conducted in Pokhara.
Bhattarai, the former chairman of the Air Sports Association, said that one can fly in the sky and observe the Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri, and Manaslu mountains, which are more than 8,000 meters high, and the activities of this sport have gained fame in the world tourism market.
Krishna Bhandari, president of Nepal Air Sports Association, informed that more than 150,000 people paraglide in Pokhara every year, including foreign and domestic tourists.
According to him, now 400 to 500 people do paragliding every day when the weather is favorable after the lockdown is lifted.
In Pokhara, Paragliding World Cup, Pre-World Cup, Asian Champion Skill, National Championship as well as the annual international paragliding competition held by Nepal Air Sports Organization was held.
According to President Bhandari, national and international competitions have been stopped with the lockdown.
There are 64 registered paragliding companies in Pokhara. He informed that 1000 people including 350 para pilots have got direct employment in this business.
Due to the same national and international competition, the youth of Pokhareli won a historic silver medal in this sport after 20 years in the 18th Asiad.
Reasons why flying and paragliding cannot be combined
Suvarnaraj Upadhyay, head of the Air Traffic Management (ATM) Department of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAN), says, “The international flight should be flown through the west, and if there is a problem when landing from the east, then the plane will have to land through Sarangkot, Toripani, and Mandredhunga areas where paragliding flights are taking place.”
That’s why they can’t be together, he said. According to the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority, the length of the air space within the Pokhara Valley is about 26 km and the width is 6 km.
According to the authority, the distance of the paragliding activity is six kilometers. But Upadhyay informed us that alternatives are being explored.
Director General of Nepal Civil Aviation Authority Rajkumar Chhetri says that the authority is focused on establishing the paragliding business in Pokhara rather than displacing it.
He informed that a study is being carried out to allow flights under strict discipline at certain times as long as it is possible to fly in the areas where international flights are not flying.
Pokhara International Airport was built after 40 years of tireless efforts with an investment of 30 billion and Director General Chhetri said that he is working to ensure that its operation is good and paragliding will continue.
Flight is now possible from the location
According to the project, the construction work of Pokhara International Airport is 92 percent completed and the project is being completed and handed over within the month of October.
Businessmen have said that it is possible to fly paragliding according to international practice even after the international airport is operational from the currently operating flight area.
They say that it cannot be replaced elsewhere.
Krishna Bhandari, president of the Nepal Air Sports Association, says, “There is no way to leave Pokhara’s brand of paragliding, which has been built for 25 years, and go somewhere else.”
But he said that they also felt that it cannot be a scattered business in this situation and it can be organized and operated here.
According to Rajesh Bamjan, a professional para pilot, the stay of tourists in Pokhara is prolonged due to paragliding, which is a brand of Pokhara.
Bamjan says, “If paragliding, which has been established as the backbone of Pokhara’s tourism, is displaced from the place where it is currently operating, Pokhara’s tourism will suffer.”
Accidents happen from time to time during flights, which are part of adventure sports activities.
Since 2010, 16 people have died in paragliding accidents in and around Pokhara, according to the Information Officer of the Civil Aviation Office, Pokhara, Devraj Subedi.
According to him, 11 foreigners and five Nepalese died in the accident.