TIA operates in chaos with overcrowding,regular delays, mismanaged facilities and inadequate infrastructure
The only international airport in Nepal, Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), has been in a sorry state for quite a while now. The peak season (September to November) for tourist arrivals is almost here and guarantees further chaos and delays at the airport. Lack of prompt service, delay in luggage collection, long queues at the immigration counters, filthy toilets and congested seating in waiting areas are some of the major problems faced by flyers every day. The airport is the first and last thing a tourist sees upon arrival in Nepal and TIA paints a sad picture leaving tourist with a dismal and terrible impression of Nepal.
The problem is not only limited to the poor facilities at the airport, the TIA Improvement Project with a budget of USD 80 million has been stalled since the last six months. The project has already missed its deadline for completion, which was March 16, 2016. When asked about the reason for delay officials at TIA and the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MOTCA) blame each other and pass the buck. All concerned authorities refuse to take responsibility for the delay pointing out they are responsible only to facilitate it.
Tourists arriving at the airport have to wait for more than an hour to fill visa forms and again have to face a long queue to pay the visa fee. This reflects poor management within the system at TIA. It is time the authorities identified loopholes and worked towards easing these problems.
“When it comes to tourist destinations, Nepal features among the top 10 destinations around the world (roughguides.com). But the tourists’ are dismayed as soon as they land at TIA,” said Madhu Sudan Acharya, President, Nepal Association of Tour and Travels Agents (NATTA). According to him, international airports of different countries symbolise and reflect the country’s traditions and aesthetic inclinations, but TIA fails to even reflect Nepal’s cultural heritage and history.
Development of tourism is not possible if the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) does not prioritise TIA Improvement Project. The development of another international airport will take seven to 10 years so there is no option but to work on better management of TIA itself.
“The completion of TIA Improvement Project would directly enhance the smooth operation of airlines. However, work on TIA’s expansion to upgrade the airport has been moving at snail’s pace. But I don’t have any idea why the project missed its deadline,” said, Ghanshyam Raj Acharya, Spokesperson of Airlines Operators Association of Nepal. According to him, TIA faces huge congestion as it has only one runway which it shares with the domestic terminal. The limited space for aircraft parking leads to problems like cancellation of domestic flights. The operating cost for airlines also goes up when they are forced to hold off landing for 15 to 20 minutes waiting for the runway to be cleared.
“The only reason for all problems at TIA from delay in the TIA Improvement Project to pathetic infrastructure is the lack of efficient work and poor management of the concerned authority,” said, Suman Pandey, Chairman of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal. According to him, TIA is currently capable of handling around 30 to 35 flights per day which can be doubled if the expansion project sees completion. “Instead of playing the blame game the concerned authority has to focus on completing the project. This project will increase runway capacity which will inadvertently help in increasing tourist inflow,” informed Pandey.
Yogendra Shakya, Former National Coordinator of Nepal Tourism Year 2011 said, “After the Nepal Tourism Year 2011, the flow of tourists increased from 500,000 to 800,000. This flow built the potential for investment in the tourism sector. As a result, all the hotels added extra rooms to fulfill the expected demand. But now hoteliers find themselves in a pickle because occupancy has now grown to a insignificant number.” According to him, TIA’s poor infrastructure adversely affects tourist flow in the country. He said, “The concerned authority has to find ways to increase tourist flow and must increase TIA’s capacity to handle incoming international flights. This will in turn help hotels to cope with the dwindling occupancy rates.”
Most hoteliers agree that the airport has to be expanded and demand that it be managed properly as per international standards.
Bhola Bikram Thapa, Managing Director of President Travel and Tours said, “TIA is the main gateway to our country and it is in a pathetic condition. We are using the same old airport which was built 61 years ago. The concerned authority has to be responsible for maintenance and expansion
issues.” According to him, if the airport expansion project was completed on time, today TIA would’ve been able to handle 45 incoming flights daily instead of 30. “The crux of the matter is that these problems arise because of the authorities’ irresponsible and the sluggish attitude towards work. They have to be proactive to get things done well and fast,” informed Thapa.
The reason behind the delay in the TIA Improvement Project is not clear nor has the level of mismanagement been assessed. Mahendra Singh Rawal, Deputy Director General, CAAN said, “The reason behind the delay in the project implementation was the massive earthquake and unofficial blockade, which pushed back expansion work by a year. If there are other issues hindering the project we are definitely going to address it soon.” Failure to identify the problems and find solutions only worsens the probelms and adds to TIA’s deteriorating condition.
While many foreigners also complain about the long queues for visas and delays in baggage collection at the time of arrival at TIA, the authorities refuse to
accept this fact. Devanand Upadhyay, General Manager, TIA insisted that TIA is a well-managed airport. He said, “I recently travelled and in all the countries that I visited I had to wait in long queues at their airports. It happens everywhere.”
He claimed that now passengers can get their baggage “in an hour without any hassle” after de-boarding. However, this is yet to be experience by flyers at TIA.
The authorities responsible for maintenance and upgrading of TIA adamantly blame the earthquake that happened more than a year ago. CAAN officials informed that, by the end of October, the TIA Improvement Project might
restart. Till then passengers, airlines and the entire tourism industry will have to sufferthis chaos.
Bhola Bikram Thapa
Managing Director, President Travel and Tours
Former National Coordinator, Nepal Tourism Year, 2011
Ghanshyam Raj Acharya
Spokesperson, Airlines Operators Association of Nepal
A version of this article appears in print on September 18, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.
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