Nepal | March 30, 2020

Up Up and (not very) far away

Reena Chikanbanjar
Tribhuvan International Airport, TIA

File photo: THT

New fiscal started with positivity for TIA, but continuity of goodwill still in question


A recent cleanliness activity at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) — the sole international airport of Nepal, took the social media and new portals by storm. The airport which has been criticised time and again for mismanagement and unhygienic surroundings has dramatically turned a new leaf with the one-month long cleaning campaign (in July) initiated by the Khem Sharma from NRNA.

Stakeholders and passengers alike are of the opinion that TIA is much cleaner now than ever before. However, the flipside is that month-long campaign has not been given continuity. The efforts of Sharma might go to waste with the TIA management taking over the reins of the campaign and its objectives.

More to achieve

Bijay Amatya, CEO at Kora Tours, says cleanliness is but one service, better facilities, hospitality and capacity enhancement are equally important factors that need to be looked into. He says “Though the overall management of TIA has improved there are still many other things that need to be worked on —bigger parking space, better ground handling service, timely luggage clearance and maintaining cleanliness are yet to be tackled.”

TIA currently operates 400 plus flights per day in which average of 70 flights are international while rest are domestic flights. This means that a significant number of foreign language speakers enter the country through TIA. Language barrier has been one of the biggest hurdles for foreigners and natives alike in terms of taking and offering services.

However, according to Manjul Maske, Officer at Immigration Department at TIA, this problem has been tackled with hiring of fresh, young and dynamic service staff who are fluent in the most commonly spoken language — English. Maske also informs that handling of passengers at check-in and immigration has become less time consuming with application of new software. He states, “There are now enough counters at TIA to ensure hassle-free and smooth check-in and check-out of passengers. We have 37 counters manned by 90 counter staff.” He further informs that the airport management is planning to install biometric machines at check-ins which will make check-ins quicker and more reliable.

Mismanagement and complaints

Passengers and frequent fliers at TIA express their dissatisfaction with the bad consumer service which leads to delays in check-ins and check-outs. Some Nepali travellers have voiced their discontentment and disapproval on social media about airport staff’s behaviour towards them. In the past month, a case wherein an unmarried girl was flying out of the country with her partner was at the receiving end of jibes and uncouth remarks from an immigration officer. Maskey says, “Sometimes officers are not at their best behaviour given the long duty hours. Fatigue and erratic schedules on duty makes them vulnerable to irrationality. Also, some passengers are not very polite themselves and don’t adhere to the rules and regulations or proper conduct while at TIA.” He further states that if passengers face situation they are not comfortable with they can file a complaint against the officer in question to authorities in TIA itself.

Complaints are often heard but not listened to inside TIA premises. There are constant complains about how unhygienic the toilets at TIA are but not much has been done to keep them clean by the staff responsible. Out of the several toilets in the international terminal at TIA only two are functional in usable condition and there is running water only on one tap out of the several.

Devandanda Upadhyaya, General Manager at TIA refutes all these claims and complaints showing his indifference towards passengers discomfort and says, “Everything is all right at TIA. Everything runs smooth and is well-managed.”

Inadequate infrastructure

TIA is not only burdened with complaints of bad customer service but is also always receiving flak for delays in flight time. According to Ghanashyam Raj Acharya, Spokesperson at Airline Operator Association of Nepal (AOAN), the single runway at TIA is the major problem which creates air traffic congestion. Aircrafts spend significant amount of time waiting for permission to land from Air Traffic Control. And, when the runway is clear for landing, flights land at short intervals pouring in passengers into TIA. According to Acharya, the number of fleet and the frequency of arrival and departure have increased but TIA still functions on a limit. It doesn’t have the capacity to handle major influx of passengers. CN Pandey, Vice President at Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA) says, “TIA is too small to be handling so much traffic. Although more tourists mean more revenue for the tourism industry we haven’t yet been able to cater to the demands of these tourists. Moreover, there is just on single runway which causes delays in take-off and landing leading to air traffic congestion. Minimum space for parking aircraft also adds to this burden.”

TIA holds both domestic and international terminals within its premise. This adds to the congestion further. Pandey shares, “To cope up with the congestion problems, we are lobbying with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to build a domestic airport somewhere outside TIA premises. This will ensure smooth operation of the international airport.”

Acharya claims that the construction and development of the second international airport at Nijgadh is the only long-term solution for the problem. The only international airport is functioning over its capacity limit and has reached its saturation point. Construction of new airports for both domestic and international traffic is now a necessity rather than an option.

Acharya further states, “This is the season wherein passengers will travel across the length and breadth of the country; the traffic will be chaotic and delays unavoidable.”

Capacity enhancement

Launched in December 2010, Airport Transport Capacity Enhancement Project (ATCEP) — contracted by the Spanish contractor Constructora Sanjose was terminated in December 2016 on the grounds on poor performance riddled with delays. Birendra Prasad Shrestha, Deputy Director General at CAAN, says, “We have now categorised the projects into four packages via three national competitive bidding (NCB-01, NCB-02, NCB-03) and one international competitive bidding (ICB-01). Letter of intent is sent to Shanxi Construction Engineering for NCB-01 project (Runway Extension at TIA) and to Ms Sharma Prara and Ashish for NCB-02 project (International Terminal Building Expansion) while technical evaluation is in the process for NCB-03 project (Utility works such as making drainage system, building generator house, power supply, incinerator, septic tank et cetera).” He further informs, “ICB-01 project, on the other hand, comprises of filling large hole at Guheswori and making apron.”

According to Shrestha, the upcoming projects will ensure completion of the previous terminated project work. He says, “Previously the project was handled by a single contractor but now, we have roped in different people in different areas. I’m positive that work will progress at a good pace with these new changes.” The deadline is set from at 15 months from the launch of the project.

A version of this article appears in print on August 27, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.

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