Politicians push dozen new airport plansAt a time when the condition of many domestic airports is deteriorating in the lack of maintenance, around a dozen smaller airports are being constructed under “political pressure”.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan), construction of 10 new airports has been initiated at the behest of political party leaders. Kalikot Airport, Khiji Chandeshori Airport in Okhaldhunga, Sitleshwora Airport in Lamjung, Simichaur Airport in Gulmi, Sukilumba Airport in Ilam, and Argha Bhagwati Airport in Argakhanchi are in the phase of development.
The Tourism Ministry recently approved the plan for Sagarmatha Airport in Udaypur while Caan has started feasibility study for airstrips in Chalnetaar of Pyuthan, Rampur of Palpa and Gudel of Solukhumbu.
Caan sources said the Sagarmatha Airport plan was passed with pressure from Urban Development Minister Narayan Khadka. Likewise, Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam has been pressing for the facility in Chalnetaar, Pyuthan.
Feasibility study of the airport in Rampur, Palpa was undertaken during the tenure of Interim Election Government Chairman Khil Raj Regmi, who hails from the district.
Caan has allocated Rs 100 million this fiscal year for the feasibility study. A senior civil aviation official said the projects would not be commercially viable.
In a small geography like Nepal that has a disproportionately small number of aircraft for domestic operation considering the “large” number of airports, more airfields are not feasible both financially and technically, experts say. The aircraft to airport ratio in Nepal is 1:1. There are 52 fixed-wing aircraft and 26 helicopters in operation.
Among the 50 domestic airports, 32 are in operation while Caan makes operating profit from only seven.
Government officials say haphazard construction of airports is not new in Nepal. A report prepared by Spanish company INECO that was hired to study capacity development of Caan suggested setting strict criteria for building new facilities.
American intelligence agency CIA ranks Nepal 94th among the countries having the most number of airfields recognisable from air. In South Asia, India tops the chart with 346 airports—21st globally. Pakistan has 151 airports, Afghanistan 52, Sri Lanka 19, Bangladesh 18, Maldives has 9 while there are only two airports in Bhutan.