Flights from Bhadrapur and Biratnagar to link BangladeshSaidpur in Bangladesh is a 20-minute hop by plane from the two border cities.
The government has started work to upgrade two airports in the eastern region to international standard to allow cross-border flights to Bangladesh and India.
According to Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai, Bhadrapur and Biratnagar airports will be made regional international airports from where services will operate to Saidpur Airport in Bangladesh. Bhadrapur or Biratnagar to Saidpur is a 20-minute hop by plane.
Saidpur is one of the most important economic zones in Bangladesh. In 2018, the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry of Bangladesh started work to upgrade the airport to international class.
The 1,800-metre runway will be lengthened to 3,700 metres, making it one of the longest runways in Bangladesh. Two years ago, a joint team of Nepal’s Foreign Ministry and the Nepal-Bangladesh Chamber of Traders studied the possibility of establishing air links from the closest border point.
Damaru Ballav Paudel, under-secretary at the Foreign Ministry and one of the members of the team, said that the service was possible. An official at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said that Bangladesh had already started improving the airport, and that work in Nepal would begin soon.
Dhan Bahadur Oli, acting Nepali ambassador to Bangladesh, said that flights linking the eastern region with Saidpur would help strengthen trade and tourism in both countries. A Kathmandu-Dhaka service is the only air link with Bangladesh currently. “Bhadrapur and Biratnagar airports can also handle short flights to Bhutan and different Indian cities.”
Saidpur to Banglabandha is 144 kilometres. Banglabandha is a major inland port in northern Bangladesh established to provide a trade link with India, Nepal and Bhutan. The three nations are separated by 52-kilometre strip of Indian territory known as Siliguri Corridor. Across the border from Banglabandha lies the Indian town of Phulbari.
Saidpur Airport manager Shahin Ahmed said that the airport would be upgraded soon to connect Nepal, India and Bhutan. “The government has accorded priority to upgrade the airport to begin flights to the neighbouring countries; but we are not sure of the operation date,” he said.
Pannalal Jain, founder and president at the Nepal-Bangladesh Chamber of Traders, said that there was a need for short and direct flight connectivity to reduce Nepal’s dependency on India.
“Bangladeshi tourists are eager to visit Nepal, but there are transit hassles using the Indian surface route after the 2011 Mumbai attack,” said Jain. “Direct connectivity will reduce hassles, and the number of Bangladeshi tourists may rise.”
Trade between Nepal and Bangladesh jumped after Kakarbhitta-Phulbari-Banglabandha transit route came into operation in August 1997.
Nepal was enjoying a trade surplus with Bangladesh till 2013-14 which melted away after lentil exports, in particular, declined. In 2017-18, Nepal imported goods worth Rs3.52 billion from Bangladesh while exports were valued at Rs1.91 billion.
Green vegetables, animal feed, herbals and manufactured items from Dabur Nepal are among the exportable goods to Bangladesh. Bangladesh has permitted Nepal to use its port facilities in Mongla.