The construction and up-gradation of new and existing airports are a crucial aspect of the final preparations for Visit Nepal Year 2020.
--BY Tamish Giri
These are exciting times for aviation infrastructure development in Nepal as the construction of new international airports and up-gradation of domestic aerodromes have received emphasis from the government lately. The under-construction Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA), Bhairahawa and Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA), Pokhara, are nearing completion, albeit slowly, and the government has also upped the ante to start the construction of the proposed Nijgadh International Airport in the near future despite opposition from several quarters of the society.
As Nepal begins the ambitious mega campaign of the Visit Nepal Year (VNY) 2020, having new air infrastructure carries more importance than ever to increase the country’s connectivity to the rest of the world. Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has become highly congested and GBIA has been proposed as an alternative to TIA which is expected to provide relief to both airliners and air travellers. Upon commencing its international operations, airliners can have direct flights to and from major destinations in Asia via GBIA.
Started in January 2015, the construction of the airport, which was slated for completion in December 2017, got halted a number of times due to earthquake, economic blockade and payment related disputes between the contractor and the government. The deadline of construction of GBIA was deferred to the end of December 2019 and the first test flight from the airport has been slated for March 2020. However, a senior official at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) under the condition of anonymity says that it will take another one year for the completion of construction given the current pace of the project development. “Even if the construction of the physical infrastructure concludes, finalising policy level aspects such as getting air space (from India), airport certification and handing over the management of the airport to a foreign party will take time,” said the official.
According to Prabesh Adhikari, project chief at GBIA, 84.75 percent construction of the airport has been completed and with the 55 percent of the total budget allocated for the project is spent. So far, the construction and blacktopping of the 3,000 metres long and 60 metres wide runway along with three taxi bays have been completed while electrical works are underway at the site. Likewise, the construction of the apron has been completed and the marking works are in progress. “The structuring of the international terminal building has been finished and roofing and finishing are ongoing,” adds Adhikari. Meanwhile, the construction and furnishing of the control tower and administration office building have been completed and installation of A/C and painting of the building are ongoing. The construction of road parking between the international terminal building, administration office building and security chamber have also commenced.
The construction of the airport has been separated into two segments – international competitive bidding (ICB)-I and ICB-II. The GBIA project is estimated to cost Rs 6.23 billion and has received financial support of USD 58.50 million (USD 42.75 million in loans and USD 15.75 million in grants) from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), while USD 15 million has been financed by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). Likewise, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) bears the remaining expenses for the airport construction. “Upon completion, the airport will be ready to receive 400 passengers every per hour and 5-6 aircraft can operate at a time. Boeing 777-200 and Airbus A 330-300 series wide-body aircraft can take off and land at GBIA,” informs Adhikari.
Similarly, the construction of PRIA is also expected to connect Nepal’s popular tourist destination Pokhara directly with cities in other countries. Started in April 2016, the construction of PRIA is expected to be completed in June 2021. So far, physical progress of 54 percent has been achieved; the construction of runway, taxiway and apron has been completed.
According to Binesh Munankarmi, project chief at PRIA, civil works for the Air Traffic Control (ATC) building, as well as other ancillary facilities such as office, customs and cargo section, firefighting station, central and lighting substation, garage, water supply buildings, have ended.
Currently, roofing works of terminal building and hangar as well as the eighth-floor ATC tower is underway and is projected to be completed by the end of 2019. Likewise, construction of storm drainage as well as the access road to connect the airport with the highway are also in the final phase of construction.
The airport will be ready for flight operation only after the installation of Airfield Lighting and Communication, Navigation and Surveillance equipment. CAMC Engineering Co, contractor of the project is moving ahead for the procurement of the equipment.
The construction of the airport commenced on 13 April 2016 after cabinet awarded the contract to CAMC Engineering Co (CMAC), following a recommendation by MoCTCA. CMAC had the lowest bid for the project, at USD 305 million, which is significantly higher than the USD 175 million budget originally set for the project. The airport is funded by the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China under an Rs 21.6 billion (USD209 million) soft loan agreement with China's Government.
PRIA is an EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) model contract where the contractor is responsible for providing a full-fledged operational airport without any cost variation in the budget. PRIA is being constructed with an annual flight capacity of 20,000 flights and 800,000 passengers with an average daily landing and take-off of approximately 54 flights.
“However, the airport will be able to handle approximately 70 flights per day and 610 passengers per hour during peak times. The Apron of the airport has parking facilities for two Category D and one Category C aircraft. Narrow-body aircraft with twinjet and medium range distance such as B737 series, Airbus 319, 320 series as well as short-range aircrafts such as ATR 72, Beech 1900 D aircraft can be operated in this airport,” says Munankarmi. The airport will be equipped with DVOR/DME Equipment as well as Category I Precision Approach ILS system which includes equipment such as Localizer and Glide Path to help the aircraft with Instrument Landing System. Additionally, Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) based surveillance system, the first of its kind in Nepal, will be installed at the airport.
Similarly, TIA has been upgraded into a boutique airport with a new runway. Debendra KC, general manager at TIA says that runway expansion and construction of two new parking bays with the capacity to hold wide-body aircraft are underway at TIA. The runway is to be expanded by 300 metres while two new parking bays are being constructed at the south point of the airport.
“The airport expansion contract of TIA was awarded to China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Corporation; they will complete the runway expansion work within the March 2020 deadline,” he added.
Similarly, seven new domestic airports namely Arghakhanchi, Gulmi, Ilam, Kamal Bazar, Kalikot, Khiji Chandeswori and Lamjung are currently under construction. Likewise, Khanidanda Domestic Airport in Diktel, with a 590-meter runway is currently under maintenance. Janakpur Airport situated in the capital of Province number 2 is also being upgraded. The maintenance of the airport is projected to be completed by April 2020. Likewise, expansion of Biratnagar Airport in Province 1 has also been planned to increase the passenger capacity.
Meanwhile, the up-gradation of Dhangadhi Airport that was halted for some period has resumed. So far, 75 percent works at the airport have been completed, according to CAAN officials.
The airport has been partially closed since November 17 for runway overlay and expansion. The airport’s 1,800 metres long and 60 metres wide runway is being widened two metres more on both sides.