Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari is focused on managing air traffic at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu.
He has proposed operation of TIA for 21 hours a day to building an airport at Nagidanda of Kavre. But many argue that there is no logic in building an airport there.
A committee formed to recommend an appropriate spot out of four places in Kavre has already submitted its report to Minister Adhikari. He seems determined to start construction at any cost.
“This is a sure-shot measure to manage aviation pressure,” Adhikarit told Setopati. “One cannot demand management of pressure and then prevent construction of airport.”
Officials at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), and aviation and tourism entrepreneurs, however, argue that the Nagidanda Airport, termed sure-shot measure, is not necessary and will not have any benefit for the country.
They mainly have three arguments.
The first is, the government has already initiated the process of constructing Nijgadh Airport while the Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track to connect with Nijgadh is already under construction. The Fast Track will be completed within five years while the government aims to complete the Nijgadh Airport in six years.
The majority of international flights will then operate from Nijgadh, and the TIA can handle domestic flights. Capacity of TIA can also be increased through upgradation and expansion.
The second, the runway at the Rs 10-billion Nagidanda Airport cannot be more than 1,200 meters long. ATR and other bigger planes currently in operation for domestic flights cannot land in such a small runway. That runway can only be used by smaller planes operating flights to remote places and helicopters. Only the flights to Lukla, Tumlingtar and other eastern hilly districts, therefore, can be shifted from Kathmandu to the airport.
The third, mere construction of an airport at Nagidanda will not suffice. There must also be a fast route to come to Kathmandu from there. Passengers have to suffer crippling traffic congestion in Banepa-Surya Binayak-Koteshwore road even now, and congestion will increase even further by the time the airport will come into operation. A 2.50-kilometer road will also have to be built from Banepa to the airport.
Minister Adhikari, however, argued that there will be no problem in connecting the airport to Kathmandu.
“The road is being expanded till Dhulikhel. Bids have already been invited for metro rail to connect Nagdhunga with Dhulikhel. We can also allot a dedicated lane for vehicles coming from the airport in the Banepa-Bhaktapur section,” he pointed.
Nobody knows when Dhulikhel-Nagdhunga metro will be completed so the argument that the metro will help the airport that Minister Adhikari claims will be completed in two and a half years does not hold water. The committee that he formed, on the other hand, has concluded that it will take five years to complete the airport.
Director at Summit Air Suman Pandey calls the plan to manage pressure by constructing an airport in Kavre in five years laughable.
Pandey, who had earlier lobbied for an airport in Dhulikhel, opined that Minister Adhikari has taken the wrong track of constructing an airport at Nagidanda instead of expanding capacity of TIA.
“I had got a study done for an airport in Dhulikhel four years back. But they are now talking about building one in Nagidanda, that too after five years,” Pandey pointed. “Our priorities and needs will all have changed in five years.”
Adhikari argued that the airport at Nagidanda can be completed within two years and that will cut air traffic at TIA by 30 percent. But Pandey claimed that capacity of TIA can be expanded by 40 percent. He claimed that many problems can be resolved by adding parking ways, and expanding terminals and taxi way.
“It will not take five years to complete. We can finish it in two and a half years. It can be completed even earlier if we go for design and build model. This will be an elixir for reducing air traffic until the Nijgadh Airport comes into operation,” Adhikari claimed.
But CAAN officials beg to differ and claim it cannot be completed in two years. “It will take two-three years for just study and land acquisition. How long would it take to level the hill if an airport were to be built at Nagidanda? How long will it take to build road? It will be difficult to accurately estimate time but it will take at least five-six years even if work were expedited,” a CAAN official claimed.
The government has said decision will be taken only after comprehensive study.
But CAAN officials point that the system of constructing airports by only considering the interest of place of construction has rendered such airports obsolete. They complain that airports are constructed by only studying about the place of construction due to interest of leaders and ministers instead of studying about national needs considering the state of country.