Rara Airport lies in a state of disrepairPlans were introduced to construct a terminal tower, but work is yet to start.
Mohan Giri, chief of operations at the Mugu airport, is responsible for connecting signals received from various airports to airborne flights—a job that puts him on his toes during his duty hours. But the room he operates from does not speak of the weight of responsibility that rests on his shoulders.
“The one-room wooden hut with corrugated sheets for roof is prone to wobbling during strong winds,” Giri said. His job is to direct aircraft on the ground and send signals to those in the airspace.
A lot depends on the communication and signals sent out from this poorly-equipped room. “I am surprised at the state of the Air Traffic Control room but I have been told that the situation has been like this for years, and I have to keep up with this,” Giri said. He was transferred to the Airport only about six months ago.
While the control offices in the nearby districts of Humla, Bajura and Jumla are well-facilitated, the one at Rara Airport is in a state of neglect.
But it is not just the control room that is in desperate need for an upgrade. “Other structures and facilities at the airport are in equal need of repair or completion,” Giri said.
For instance, it’s years since plans were introduced to construct the Terminal Tower, but work is yet to start. The current tower is among the last wooden terminal towers still in operation in Nepal.
Birendra Malla, station in-charge of Nepal Airlines, said that operations at the airport have not undergone much change since the time of Maoist insurgency when flights were allowed to take off from and land on an open field nearby.
“The situation is still the same; the only difference is that there is an airstrip now,” Malla said.
The airport’s 570m long runway, however, was blacktopped in 2015.
Moreover, the airport regularly suffers landslides during monsoon and often faces an intrusion of cattle.
“This area is prone to land sinks especially during the monsoon and because of that we haven’t been able to pick a proper spot to erect a tower,” said Pushpa Raj Neupane, chief of the airport construction project.
Moreover, the monsoon also affects the airport’s parking bay every year. The eastern section of the runaway was eroded by a recent landslide. Because of this, flights are often grounded on the runaway this season.
“The airport sorely lacks the government’s attention,” said Chitra Bahadur Malla, chair of the District Citizens’ Network. “It’s probably one of the most important airports for tourism in the country but, sadly, it’s without proper care.”
Gopal Bam, a Member of Parliament representing the district, said he has repeatedly raised the issue in ministry-level meetings and in the federal parliament.
“But the government is yet to pay proper attention to its reform,” Bam said. “After all, the airport is a significant catalyst to all the touristic and economic possibilities the district holds.”
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