Tribhuvan International Airport: Hit by snags

The worst problems facing CAAN is that once there is a change in the government there is a flip flop in the top notches. The other pressure is most of the ministers want is to build new airports within their constituency

There is a very simple saying: Easier said than done, but this speaks volumes in itself manifesting many aspects of our lives bringing out the different shades and the colors of ourselves. In this aspect we have been noticing and reading many incidents of our one and only famous Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) that too in most critical forms often degrading not only TIA but tarnishing the image our country. We have read that it is one of the worst airports. This seems bad for us Nepalese, for TIA is still in a sorry state because even now in the TIA things are not placed in the right order, the condition of the existing facilities are not up to the mark, immigration is not swift, the arrival of the baggage to the baggage area are delayed and so on.

Thumbing through the chronicles of TIA we notice that it was initially a cow grazing field which had the luxury of the old golf course saw its first ever landing by a 4 seater lone powered vintage beach bonanza aircraft flown by the then Indian ambassador of India to Nepal Mr. Surit Singh, a breakthrough in the field of aviation in 1949; making a milestone in the aviation era in Nepal metamorphosed from the grassy Gaucher with its thatched hut a 1,143m.runway, to a 10,000ft. runway along with the tower, communication section, and the fire station to name a few of the facilities; to create a better outlook replacing the thatched hut and the grassy runway. During the 50s and the late 60s the Nepalese sky was graced by the great Dakota (also known as war horses) which also flew international charter flights from Kathmandu to Calcutta by the Himalaya Aviation and its daily dose of Pokhara, Bhairahawa, Simra and Biratnagar.

After the inauguration of the present TIA by late King Birendra in 1990, with the introduction of the liberal sky policy in 1992, doors flung open for the private airlines that catered to the needs for remote area people paving the way to congest both the Nepalese sky and ground with multiple types of aircraft inclusive of huge M117 / M118 helicopters creating challenges to the management, air traffic controllers and other concerned agencies. There are presently 25 international airlines and 18 domestic airlines that criss- cross the Nepalese sky. This very boon in airline industry often has become the setback in the Nepalese aviation sector because of the various decades old yet unsolved chronic problems confronting TIA.

So, CAAN is facing huge problems with the airlines which have been introducing different types of aircraft i.e. domestic airlines have at least 20 different types of aircraft flying in the Nepalese sky and 12 different types of aircraft that are used by the international airlines. Manifesting the burden an ATC has to encounter during his duty hours and needs to be quick in doling out the necessary command according to the types of aircraft and of course their position.

The worst problems facing CAAN is that once there is a change in the government there is a flip flop in the top notches. The other pressure is most of the ministers want is to build new airports within their constituency regardless of the fact that there is a requirement for an airport or not. Civil Aviation Policy has clearly stipulated that a new airport can only be built within 20km for the STOL airfield and 40 km for the airfield in the terai but often the pressure created is so immense that the concerned authorities are reluctant and are mere rubber stamps and follow the decisions from above. So look at the number of airports in Nepal: 56 with 32 airports in operation, 18 nonoperational and still six airports under construction. It is a pity and shame that despite the fact that 18 airports are non operational yet the government went ahead to build another six of them.

Agreed that the non operational airports were used then but now they have become redundant. The other sorry fact is that we have nowhere near in actively pushing the second international airport at Nijghad which is of prime importance.

Similarly the hub airports of Pokhara and Bhairahawa too need to be accelerated so it can not only bring in more tourists but congestion at TIA would be lessened. There was a huge hue and cry about building a helipad a little away from TIA to ease the ever growing in flux of the varied types of helicopters (MI 17 to Ecurail) yet this too was a flash in the pan as the idea just fizzled away once the minister that initiated this idea was no more in the seat.

Technically we need to make TIA more sound with the latest gadgets be it for security, fire section, and air traffic or for providing better facilities for the passengers.

There may be hosts of ideas to improve the overall development of TIA to merely eke out its existence and some of it would be to rent out some of the airports out of Kathmandu that are being useless, redundant and for the grass to grow as: Balewa of Baglung, airports of Rajbiraj, Dang, Plungtar of Gorkha, and many other airports lying idle. It’s a pity and humiliating that the concerned authorities have not been able to hasten the construction of the second international airport, the upgrading of Pokhara and Bhiarahawa Airports, blacktopping of the important airports, etc. because the more time it takes to renovate or build these airports the more difficult it will get in the future for its operation.

The writer is a former Joint Secretary of the Government of Nepal