Nepal | April 06, 2020

Finger at sloppy aerodrome engineering for TIA mess

Rajan Pokhrel
Nepal Airlines Corporation aircraft

File-A Nepal Airlines Corporation aircraft at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. Photo: Keshav P. Koirala

KATHMANDU: A recent study on pavement condition and strength analysis of the Tribhuvan International Airport commissioned by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal involving the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration has revealed a litany of surprises.

As accessed by this daily, the final report shows that the gross incompetence and negligence of the civil and electrical engineering department continues to be swept under the carpet by CAAN administrations that remained focused on other issues of higher importance and rate of return.

Though the report chronologically precedes the bungled 2013 runway overlay attempt at over Rs 300 million as well as the devastating earthquakes of 2015 by describing in detail the state of the pavement and associated practices, it clearly exposes a shocking culture of the substandard runway and taxiway repairs by the concerned maintenance department at the TIA.

“What is shocking is this is happening despite its purported oversight by the aerodrome inspectors from the CAAN head office,” an international airline station manager reacted.

According to him, the never-ending problem of water penetration of the runway base in summers leading to customary frequent runway closures with ensuing flight delays is barely a few weeks ahead to compound the woes arising out of mindless approval of additional international flight schedules by the TIA management.

Not only does the report point to pavement maintenance procedures being ‘non-compliant with international standards,’ but also dwells on irregular asphalt composition along the entire runway stretch.

“This clearly points to the incompetence of the contractors employed, the sheer ineptness of the civil engineering supervisors and also the ingrained culture of corruption within,” a TIA officer admitted. An interesting phrase in the report sums it all: “Again, the unusual and inconsistent thicknesses can be attributed to local techniques, lack of equipment, and lack of supplies.”

CAAN is in no way under any financial distress as it is a monopoly and continues to accumulate billions in the name of airport development fee, being levied under a questionable legal basis. But its monopolistic stature has curiously led to a culture of complacency in the key areas requiring exclusive technical competence for the sake of aviation safety, admitted a senior CAAN director.

Saying that minor issues could escalate to severe problems, the report also goes on to elaborate that the runway light system is receding due to multiple overlays and needs to be ‘raised’ in order to be in compliance with international safety standards.

“By merely tweaking the qualifications for its specialised aerodrome engineering positions, engineers are rocketing through the ranks in the organisation without a decent research-oriented engineering post-graduate degree.”

When sensitive tasks like project conception, preparation of technical specifications and bid documents, evaluation of bids, and even supervision of civil works are all contracted out to a handful of local contractors of dubious credentials, the casualty is, of course, the country’s civil aviation, he added.

“What could be more shocking in the report than the mention of the lack of complete set of construction documents showing the location of electrical cables and duct banks at TIA, a certified aerodrome?,” the CAAN director concluded, “Clearly, the purported aerodrome inspectors are looking the other way when it comes to certifying the sole international gateway while the user airlines are merrily raking in the moolah.”

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