Sustainability worries fly in the face of govt claims

Kathmandu, December 2

In an example of lack of seriousness and far-sightedness, it is learnt that the government has not made any business plan for Gautam Buddha International Airport even though aviation authorities, including Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari, have been claiming that the airport will start operations by next year.

At a time when the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has been facing criticism for what ails Nepal Airlines Corporation, the recent disclosure related to GBIA raises questions on the sustainability of the national pride project.

Earlier, Adhikari had claimed that the government was serious about completing construction of GBIA on schedule and would make plans for its sustainability. “The government has prioritised the project and all related line agencies will formulate respective plans for its operations,” he had claimed. However, CAAN has yet to start preparing business plan for the GBIA. It has not even made calculations regarding the income and expenses of the airport. “We have not yet framed any concrete plan on how we’ll manage the airport,” revealed Sanjeev Gautam, director general of CAAN.

The government has yet to publish any notice on when the airport will actually come into operation and information related to coordination with the international airline companies that want to fly to GBIA. For instance, Qatar Airlines and Fly Dubai enquiries to fly directly to GBIA have fallen on deaf ears.

“Most of the foreign airlines flying to Nepal are focused on the labour migration market, but we plan to change that and focus on bringing more tourists from those destinations,” said Gautam, adding that this concept will be included in their plan.

If everything goes according to plan, GBIA should start operation by June, as 60 per cent of construction works has already been completed. The project has finished black-topping almost 1,000 metres of runway and construction of link taxiway is almost over. Construction of the apron and arrival and departure buildings will be completed within the next three weeks. “As per our plan we’ll finish the project in the next four months and start test operation after that,” Gautam claimed. As per international practice, CAAN must notify airline companies six months before the airport starts operation and thereafter finalise all negotiations related to operation of flights. However, the government has apparently done nothing in this regard.

Meanwhile, sceptics have started saying that the GBIA could turn out to be a ‘white elephant’ just like the wide-body aircraft of NAC which were acquired without any business plan. For the GBIA to be self-sustaining there must be direct flights to the airport and it should not be used to just divert planes when there is congestion at Tribhuvan International Airport.