PRIA Inauguration 
Problems Surround the Newly-built Airport in Pokhara

As the inauguration date is approaching, problems are mounting, and officials doubt the airport would remain in-operational even after January 1.

the HRM
The government has targeted to inaugurate the Pokhara International Airport, the third international airport of Nepal, on January 1. But the target seems unachievable, given how much has been done to completely operate the airport.

China CAMC Engineering won the construction contract for the project in May 2014, and work started in July 2017. The then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli laid the foundation stone of Pokhara International Airport on April 13, 2016. The government constructed the airport with a loan amount of USD 215.96 million from China.

The government, in late November, completed the calibration flights and technical testing of the airport. But as the inauguration date is approaching, problems are mounting, and officials doubt the airport would remain in-operational even after January 1.

Landfill Site Problem
Relocating the Bacche Baduwa landfill site near the newly-constructed airport has been seen as a major problem. “The dumping site poses a bird-strike risk to aircraft. The airport would not be able to operate unless the landfill site nearby is relocated,” Bikram Gautam, Coordinator of Operation Readiness and Airport Transport under the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), told the HRM.

However, the Pokhara Metropolitan City is yet to find a new landfill site to dump the waste. “We are currently filling the landfill site with soil. We will complete the process before the deadline, but the metropolis is yet to find a new place to develop it as a landfill site” according to Jitendra Jung KC, information officer of Pokhara Metropolis.

“The civil aviation authority is hopeful that the metropolis stops dumping waste in the landfill site, and relocates it. There should be collaborative efforts from all three tiers of the government to make Pokhara International Airport a success story. As of the situation now, no airlines would operate to and from the airport, given the activities of birds–especially vultures and eagles–in the area,” he said. “There are as many as 108 species of birds in and around the airport area.”

Even when the landfill site is relocated or fully covered with soil, it will take at least six months for birds to disappear from the area. “Looking at the current situation, there are too many problems at Pokhara International Airport. But we have to be hopeful,” said Sanjeev Gautam, a former Director General of CAAN.

In the meantime, Ritthepani Hill has been flattened just for the calibration flights. At least 16 meters have been flattened for testing. The Chinese Company is further working on it. It would be completed before the December 31 deadline.

Death of Adventure Sports
CAAN has already concluded that paragliding activities from Sarangkot Hill must be relocated to operate the Pokhara International Airport. They [adventure sports business] have been advised to relocate to either Parbat or Baglung.

According to Laxman Subedi, President of Hotel Association Pokhara, businesses have urged the authorities concerned to manage certain times to operate ultra flights and paragliding activities. “At least 70 percent of tourists in Pokhara want to enjoy adventure sports. If we have to relocate adventure activities, Pokhara would not be an attractive destination for adventure tourists,” he said, adding that aerial sports operators, earlier, urged the government to impose flight curfew for certain hours. “But there has been no reply from the authorities concerned.”

According to Pokhara Tourism, the tourism body of the scenic city, over 70 companies are operating paragliding activities in the Sarangkot Hill area. And, five ultralight companies operate flights from the domestic airport in Pokhara.

“Pokhara has already been branded as a city with adventure sports. The government must come up with a concrete plan to manage paragliding–at least to save the image of Pokhara as an adventure hub,” said Subedi.

Continuity of Bhairahawa Airport?
Nepal expected its second international airport–the Gautam Buddha International Airport–would be a busy airport, and would divert passenger flow from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa. However, seven months after the operation, only a few airlines have shown interest to operate flights from Bhairahawa.

As Bhairahawa Aiport has failed to achieve success, many fear the Pokhara Airport would also face the same fate. “It takes some time for airports to run business fully. We can’t say if Pokhara would face the fate of Bhairahawa. But if the government dilly-dallies in solving problems, it would definitely turn into a white elephant,” said Gautam., adding, “The government should open a labor permit office in Pokhara. It is not even done in Bhairahawa. We think the Pokhara Airport would be filled with only tourists. We thought the same with Bhairahawa Airport. But Indian airlines did not show interest to operate from Bhairahawa Airport.”

He further added that the government must provide some sort of subsidy to airline companies so that they feel encouraged to start the operation. “This is the toughest time for airline companies all over the world. They are not wanting to start operations from new airports as they fear going in loss,” he mentioned.

According to Bikram Gautam, a few airlines have already shown interest to operate from Pokhara. But, an official at the CAAN, said airlines are not positive to start commercial flights from Pokhara. “There are so many problems yet to be solved. Even if the airport is inaugurated on January 1, we will not see the full operation for a long time. I fear the airport will face the same fate as the Gautam Buddha International Airport,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The audit report of the Office of the Auditor General also says due to a lack of ‘technical preparation for the commercial operation of the new airport, it looks like Pokhara international airport will not come into operation immediately, even after the construction is completed.’ The report also forecast that civil aviation body would incur losses from the airport.

A Regional Airport Not Fully International
Just like the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, the Pokhara Airport will have a one-way approach. The airport can’t be further expanded as it has been constructed like the Kathmandu Airport. It is situated between two hills.

The airport has a single 2,500-meter-long runway with a width of 45 meters.

“The runway will be able to handle medium-range commercial aircraft such as the Airbus A320, Boeing 737, and Boeing 757. This means Pokhara Airport can only serve as an airport for regional and domestic flights,” said former CAAN DG Gautam.

According to Binesh Munakarmi, chief of the airport project, the main international terminal building has the capacity to handle 650 passengers per hour. “The airport will have three parking bays for A320-type jets with an aerobridge facility and five parking bays for ATR-type aircraft. There will be a separate terminal and parking bay for domestic flights.”

Tourism Entrepreneurs are excited
“With the opening of the airport in Pokhara, direct flights to neighboring countries like India, China, and Bangladesh would be frequent. We expect a huge number of tourists would come from India and China, which will be helpful for boosting the overall economy of the Gandaki Province,” said Subedi.

According to him, the number of conferences and meetings has also increased in Pokhara lately. “The operation of the airport would attract Indian industrialists and business persons for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) activities,” said Subedi, adding that businesses have invested millions of rupees with the hope that the airport would bring joy to Pokhara.

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