Flying frustrationsPlans to ease Kathmandu’s air traffic congestion need urgent implementation
Flying in and out of the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has become increasingly frustrating. Nepal’s sole international airport has been strained to capacity due to infrastructure bottlenecks and the inability of authorities to manage flights.
Besides being notorious for being one of the worst airports in the world in terms of comfort, cleanliness and customer service, the TIA has also reached a saturation point. Its infrastructure is ill-equipped to deal with the growth of airlines. For example, the international terminal, which was designed to process 1,340 passengers per hour, has been handling twice that number. The situation becomes more challenging during the peak tourist season.
Things are not any better in the domestic terminal. Nepal’s domestic air passenger movement increased by 28.85 percent to a record 1.75 million last year. The growth in passenger demand, due partly to the sorry state of our national highways, drove almost all airlines to place orders for new aircraft, apparently unconcerned that there is little space to park them.
The result is that flight delays as well as queues of aircraft circling the skies awaiting landing permission have been common. Such state of affairs can try the patience of even the calmest passenger. It also raises concerns about air safety. Although a holding pattern is a fairly easy manoeuvre compared to other tasks in instrument flying, it is a source of confusion and apprehension for exhausted pilots and passengers. It is also detrimental to the environment due to additional emissions.
The situation will likely get worse before it might get better. This year, airlines are adding about 15 aircraft—and relatively bigger sized—in order to expand operations. Once functional as international airports in a few years, the Lumbini and Pokhara airports will help reduce air traffic in Kathmandu. There has been a plan since 2012 to construct a domestic airport in Kavre. But until these developments take place, the TIA will face more pressure due to the airline expansion drive.
It is good that the TIA on Tuesday announced a plan to construct at least eight aerobridges after expanding the international terminal to ease air traffic congestion. The same day, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Dilnath Giri issued a 12-point declaration directing the Civil Aviation Authority to start the process of constructing the airport in Kavre. These plans need urgent and efficient implementation if air travel in the country is to be pleasant and safe.