“We are trying to keep the connectivity.”
Nepal resumed international flights in September 2020 after several months of lockdown during the global pandemic. Seven months later, Abdullah Tuncer Kececi, the General Manager of Turkish Airlines speaks to OyeKtm about the way forward for the aviation industry and about the health measurements being taken to prevent the spread of the virus on aircrafts.
How have the flights been running after the opening of the TIA?
At the beginning of the pandemic, all international flights had been halted for quite some time. This continued until September of 2020. Only repatriation and emergency flights had been carried out. Later, a few cargo flights were able to run and we were also able to transport vaccines recently. We started our regular flights in October. We’re currently running 2 weekly flights and are planning to increase this number. But it will depend on a lot of variables.
After the opening of the airports, we had to start from zero again. It was a difficult time for all airlines, aviation and the tourism industry. I have to say that at my age, this is the most difficult time that we’ve ever had. It is not an easy time for any industry but I believe that the “unknown” part of the pandemic is over. We are now heading in a positive direction. The vaccination is being distributed globally and the global vaccinated population is more than the unvaccinated population. So, I think that is a good sign.
You mentioned that the airlines was also able to bring in vaccines, how was that experience?
The first cargo of vaccines came from Mumbai which was in collaboration with UNICEF, WHO, and the UN. It was planned with the collaboration of health organizations and embassies in Nepal. We were able to transport a total of more than one million doses of the vaccine. We are happy that our connectivity was able to make this historic moment successful. The safety of our passengers is always important but in this case, the delivery of the cargo was our top priority. We are always trying to keep the connectivity with our passengers and with other organizations. This had offered us an opportunity to step up when our help was required.
Do you see the situation going back to normal any time soon?
For now, we are at a period where nobody can foresee the future. Exactly one year ago, nobody could have predicted what would happen next. Some people expected the lockdown to last for a couple of weeks, some for three months but unfortunately, it was long-lasting as we are still seeing an impact of the global pandemic today. But I would say that the unknown part is over now. Now, the health organizations have more ideas on Covid19 and its treatments. There is a positive movement that makes us hopeful.
We are now expecting some rules and regulations to be implemented by the airports and the government that will allow vaccinated people to travel more freely. The number of infected people is decreasing in Nepal and we hope that the global numbers would also decrease rapidly.
We always have to believe that there comes a bright sun after a dark night, so we should never lose hope. Human nature is strong and it will always find ways to survive and move forward. Now, we have to learn how to live with it and continue with our learning.
What kind of health measurements are being practiced on Turkish Airlines before onboarding passengers?
There are different protocols to follow depending on the countries and airports. Each protocol is linked to the protocols of another. All of them have to do with health and safety. We have tried to make the onboarding process with as little contact as possible. We also provide a hygiene kit to all passengers which include a mask, antiseptic wipes, and hand sanitizer. Inside the aircraft, it is mandatory to wear a mask at all times. At this moment, traveling has more to do with simply reaching a destination rather than comfort. It might not be comfortable for the passengers when they are required to follow all the regulations but it is for the sake of everybody’s health and their own.
We also have one cabin crew on board who is responsible for overlooking that all hygiene protocols inside the aircraft are strictly being followed. We also use hyper filters for dust below 0.3 microns inside the aircraft. This cleans up 99.97% of dust and microbes in the air to make the interior as clean as that of a hospital. The aircraft is constantly cycled with fresh air. And all tests are conducted as per the regulations before boarding. The aircraft is also disinfected after every flight.
In every step of the way, we are trying to follow the protocols as much as possible. As such, Turkish Airlines received the ‘Diamond’ status in the health and safety review conducted by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).
What recommendations would you give to the Nepali aviation industry to add to the health and safety measurements?
The aviation industry is strictly following the WHO and IATA rules and regulations. They know that it is still not a good time to step back from practicing strict health and safety checkups. I think for the future of Nepal’s aviation and tourism, we should focus on bringing a few structural changes to make the checkup processes easier while travelling. It will be very important for the future.
How is the international perception towards Nepal in terms of the tourism sector?
There are many tourists willing to come to Nepal. Unfortunately, it is not easy to decide to travel to another country just yet as a country may go into lockdown all of a sudden. Things are changing very quickly. There are also many restrictions and rules to follow at the moment.
This is the main tourist season in Nepal but unfortunately, it is not as busy as before. We are waiting for the government to set the protocols to allow vaccinated people to travel more freely. There are still people who want to travel.
However, Nepal is one of the critical destinations that can easily open up. This is because most of the main touristic highlights in Nepal are set in the outdoors and not confined spaces with personal limitations. Adventure activities such as trekking, hiking and even visiting historic sites such as the Durbar Squares are set in open areas. Nepal can take a big advantage of its nature and the outdoors. This could be a good time to reassess the tourism industry and make changes in a positive direction.