Over the last few years, improving the old airports and constructing new ones have become the part of the government’s national agenda. Many airports have been upgraded across the country without proper feasible studies. It is always good to add value to existing infrastructure but it is equally important to undertake feasible studies before embarking on such projects which require a huge amount of resources from the government’s coffers. Unlike developed countries, Nepal has limited resources to spend on such development projects that yield less results but consume more money.
When Nepal started expanding the airport project in the 1960s and 1970s during the Panchayat period, there was a real reason to do so. Because of the difficult terrain, it was not easy to connect the different parts of the country by road unlike today. Nearly 68% of Nepal’s land mass is covered by hilly regions. Connecting the country back then by roads was a daunting task for the government. With this aim, the then government started building airports across Nepal keeping safety, security and governance in mind for national integration. It was necessary to have air connection to monitor and mitigate any uprisings and violence in the early 1960s. With this in mind, the government built airports in the most inaccessible parts of Nepal. In the past, many of them did very good business and served the country in times of crisis. But it seems less relevant to keep them in operation today if they don’t perform well financially.
Things have changed over the years. The construction of roads has expanded to the hilly regions as well. With the ongoing road projects being implemented in the various regions of the country, having a multitude of airports has become less relevant.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, there are 53 airports in Nepal, and out of them only 34 are in operation. Out of 34, only 13 airports are in profit. Apart from this, three more airports will be in operation soon. Many airports across the country have become white elephants for the government, costing huge amounts of money in terms of maintenance, security and operating costs.
In the past, airports were built to accommodate the needs of the government and to address the demands of foreign visitors. Meghauli Airport was built for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and it was very popular when there were resorts inside the Chitwan National Park. But now it has lost its usefulness due to Bharatpur Airport which is centrally located and serves more people. Lukla Airport was built with the support of Sir Edmund Hillary, and it links the Everest region with the outside world. It is the busiest airport of Nepal during the trekking season. However, many other airports have been built to serve the interests of a particular group and are in operation with the same agenda but with less pay-offs.
It is high time that the government reviewed the utilities and modus operandi of the airports. It is not mandatory for all domestic airlines to serve remote destinations. But this is not the case with Nepal Airlines. However, it has only two aircraft that hardly come into operation. With that said, most of the airports in the far-flung areas are without any regular flights for weeks and even months. Therefore, it is imperative to close down the airports which are not commercially viable.