Runway cracks crippling Tribhuvan International Airport

Kathmandu, September 10

Pathetic runway conditions and sub-standard maintenance arising solely out of poor engineering practices and clumsy management at Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal have come back to haunt the country’s sole international airport once again and started taking a toll on the key stakeholders including airlines and passengers as several flights were affected due to repeated closure of the only runway at Tribhuvan International Airport in recent days.

According to a highly-placed source at TIA, the runway was closed twice at around 12:20pm to 1:15pm and 2:20pm to 2:30pm to carry out maintenance work after runway 02 developed a number of cracks yesterday. “Airport was closed for over an hour while over a dozen domestic and international flights were affected,” an official said.

Jet Airways flight was diverted to Varanasi, India while other arriving international flights, including Druk Air, Nepal Airlines and Biman Bangladesh were instructed to hold in the sky, according to him. “Nearly a dozen domestic flights were diverted yesterday alone while it has now become a routine affair here.”

TIA Spokesperson Prem Nath Thakur admitted that the runway, last resurfaced in 2013, has been witnessing cracks on a regular basis. “Operations at TIA had to be repeatedly curtailed for carrying out pavement maintenance as we have no option but to temporarily suspend its operations,” he said.

Earlier, an IndiGo flight from New Delhi made a go around after the pilots spotted cracks on the active runway at TIA a few days ago. Every international flight has to incur big loss when diverting the scheduled flight that also causes inconvenience to passengers, especially when they have inter-connecting flights.

TIA has been witnessing a spate of potholes and cracks on its runway due to substandard work at a time when a jumbo team led by chief at TIA-Improvement Project Baburam Poudel and comprising TIA General Manager Devanand Upadhayay, Deputy Director General at Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Raj Kumar Chhetri, Civil Engineering Director Dhruba Das Bhochhibhoya and Bishnu Prasad Marasini from the CAAN’s Finance Department are out enjoying a family trip to Europe spending a sizeable sum from the improvement project which has a component of runway upgradation. “The team will be returning tomorrow after a week-long trip to Europe,” a project official shared.

Interestingly, there is once again a sense of deja vu, when in 2012-15 under the INECO-ATCE Project scores of CAAN higher ups and trade union personnel, including Marasini, enjoyed the hospitality of the contractors in Europe, despite the scope foreign familiarisation visit was not spelled out in the Terms of Reference for the project, handled by the TIA-IP, the official added.

The contractors are too willing to appease the management with such trivia and get away with sub-standard documents generated by low-costing experts as is evident by the fate of one of the outcomes of the project, namely the proposed integrated civil aviation act, has turned into a hot potato with CAAN unions openly challenging the government’s decision to proceed with the promulgation of the legislation, according to a CAAN director.

Stakeholders said that the Asian Development Bank-funded projects in the country’s aviation and tourism sector failed to produce the desired output apart from offering a number of merry-making opportunities to a few lucky at CAAN and the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation.

An official at the Airlines Operators’ Committee, an umbrella body of international air carriers in Nepal, said that besides a huge monetary loss incurred by the airlines, a temporary shutdown of an airport could result in a negative consequences for several stakeholders and also disrupt the economic activity in the region