Learn the lessonGovt must be serious about building an international airport in Nijgadh
Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the only international airport in Nepal, was shut down for more than 12 hours last week after a Boeing 737 belonging to Malaysia-based Malindo Air aborted take-off and skidded off the runway.
Although the 139 on board the aircraft, including seven crew members, were safe, scores of flights were cancelled or diverted after the incident. This was not the first time that all flight operations at TIA came to a grinding halt due to an incident of this nature. TIA was shut down for four days three years ago after a Turkish Airlines aircraft skidded off the runway while landing.
TIA has to completely shut down flight operations whenever such incidents occur because it has only one runway. Another runway can be built at TIA, but land has to be acquired for this purpose, as areas in the vicinity of the airport are heavily populated and the distance between two runways must be around one kilometre. This speaks volumes about investment that the government will have to make to build another runway. So, as more and more international airlines begin to fly to Nepal, complete airport shutdowns may become frequent.
The aerodrome shutting down for prolonged periods of time does not bode well for a country with only one international airport. What if a major disaster like the devastating 2015 earthquake hits when the only international airport is closed? This would not only cut off the country’s air connectivity with the outside world, but could prevent the country from mobilising international humanitarian assistance, which is crucial to save people’s lives.
A feasible solution would be the construction of a new international airport.
Although the country is building two international airports, one in Bhairahawa and one in Pokhara, they are quite far away from the country’s capital, Kathmandu, where the federal government is based. This means another airport must be built near the Kathmandu Valley. A viable option is Nijgadh, and the government has already conducted a detailed feasibility study to build an airport there. But works are moving ahead too slowly.
Calls for the construction of this airport were widely made after the Turkish Airlines incident. But these voices subsided once the situation became normal. The closure of TIA for over 12 hours last week has again underlined the need to immediately build an international airport in Nijgadh. And no delay should be made this time.
Nepal has identified tourism as one of the sectors that can help it earn foreign currency. But news about the shutdown of the only international airport, which leaves passengers stranded, has been tarnishing Nepal’s reputation abroad. If the government truly wants to generate jobs and foreign income by promoting tourism, it must be serious about building an international airport in Nijgadh.