KATHMANDU: Does Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal know where it should invest millions of rupees in the name of air capacity enhancement, upgradation or air safety improvement?

Unused runway lighting system at Dhangadi-based domestic airport is a case to reveal startling facts regarding the prevailing investment practices in CAAN as this daily pursues the investigation of fundamental reasons plaguing Nepal’s civil aviation.

CAAN’s investment of more than Rs 80 million to install airfield lighting system manufactured by Thorn-Solutions, SafeGate, on 1,800-metre runway in Dhangadi has been gathering dust for more than six years, according to an official at CAAN’s Communication and Navigation Aid Department.

Though the Annex 14 for Aerodrome Design Manual of the International Civil Aviation Organisation prescribes runway lights in any airfield intended to operate night flights, CAAN haphazardly spent millions of rupees in Dhangadi, which only entertains a single daytime flight under the visual flight rules every day.

With an aim to equip Dhangadi airport with airfield lighting system to make it suitable for running night operation, most of the CAAN officials have been wondering what inspired their bosses to launch lighting project without any business plan, as half of the life of installed lights has already ended. “Additionally, two CAAN executives had flown abroad for Factory Acceptance Test inspection for 10 days and eight others attended electrical and mechanical maintenance as well as familiarisation training on manufacturer’s premises for several weeks, costing CAAN a huge sum of taxpayers’ money,” a senior director at the aviation regulatory body said.

According to him, most of the trained hands have already retired without showing their skill in Dhangadi.

General Manager at Tribhuvan International Airport who was involved in the lighting project said Dhangadi airport upgradation had been stalled for long due to lack of land to place Very High Frequency Omni-directional Range - Distance Measuring Equipment, causing under-utilisation of lighting system.

Rajendra Singh Nayak, Chief of the Dhangadi airport, also admitted CAAN’s failure to fully operate lighting system worth millions since its installation in 2010 by a CAAN-endorsed contractor, Mahavir Shree International. The contractor also guaranteed the availability of spare parts for at least 10 years from the date of certificate of acceptance.

“But runway edge lights occasionally facilitate flight operations in Dhangadi during winter season when VFR operation witnesses poor visibility,” he claimed. The airport manager says things will take off once the installation of VOR-DME is complete.

That only time will tell. But what is clear is that CAAN has set a trend in investing huge sums without doing any cost-benefit analysis or feasibility study, an aviation expert said, referring to a few more instances ranging from the installation of air traffic control automation system or runway visual range equipment in the recent past to spending a huge amount on global navigation satellite system for over a decade.