EDITORIAL: Tough take-off

Without a sound business plan, Gautam Buddha International Airport may turn into a boondoggle rather than a boon

Running an airport is a challenging business and making it turn a profit is no mean task. A perfect coordination of humans and machines on tarmac keeps an airport up and running, but there are equally important issues off the tarmac that must be dealt with for an airport to earn business. It takes a sound business plan for an airport to make steady progress and make a profit. The Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa (GBIA) is expected to start operations by next year, but the government, reports suggest, has yet to come up with a business plan for the airport. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has not even made calculations regarding the income and expenses. According to Sanjeev Gautam, director general of CAAN, the aviation regulatory body has not yet framed any concrete plan on how to manage the airport.

This shows utter lack of seriousness on the part of the government. With no concrete business plan, there are concerns whether the much-hyped GBIA will ever be able to operate in sustainable way. If everything goes according to plan, the 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 CAAN’s plan, the project will be ready for test operation in about four months. But which all airlines will be flying to and from the GBIA? What are the airline routes? When will negotiations related to operations of flights start? When will the negotiations be finalised? There are no answers?

Operating an airport and making money out of it are two completely different aspects. For an airport to turn a profit, there are some crucial factors that the authorities must take into account — operation costs (income and expenditure), airline routes, passenger flows, local and international regulations, and of course trends in the global economy. The GBIA, a national pride project, is already running slow. After facing many delays, the project when completed in June is set to have cost Rs 40 billion. But it’s strange that there is no concrete plan for operating the airport. The government has not even published any notice regarding when the airport will actually come into operation. It is yet to notify the international airline companies that want to fly to GBIA. No response to the queries by a couple of international airline companies, for example, regarding direct flights to the GBIA shows utter lack of seriousness on the part of government authorities. As per international practice, CAAN must notify airline companies six months before the airport starts operation. The country certainly needs a new international airport at the earliest in view of traffic congestion at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). But with no business plan in hands for the GBIA, there are concerns that it could become an airport where flights from congested TIA will be diverted. Authorities must pay heed on time to make the GBIA a boon — not a boondoggle — for the country.

Budget unspent 

The Sudoorpaschim (Far-West) province has been very slow in spending its development budget in the first four months of the fiscal, thanks to lack of adequate number of staffers and proper planning of development programmes. As per the District Treasury Comptroller Office, Dhangadhi, the province has spent only 0.181 per cent of total Rs 395 million earmarked for the first four months. Financial Affairs and Planning Minister Jhapat Bahadur Bohara also lamented that his ministry had only 13 staffers whereas he required 47 staffers.

The federal government should have deployed adequate number of civil servants, planners and engineers to carry out development works in all provinces. It has been almost one year since the provincial governments were formed. But they have not even been able to set up their offices properly due to lackadaisical approach of the federal government. The development budget will remain unspent if Sudoorpaschim does not get enough employees from the federal government. The province has passed a budget worth Rs 24 billion. The federal government needs to provide enough staffers to make all the provinces fully functional.