Bhairahawa international airport to be ready only by mid-yearDelayed delivery of key equipment will push back the completion deadline, officials say.
The airport construction project in Bhairahawa has had to push back its completion deadline as the factories in China where key equipment is being manufactured have been shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Officials said Gautam Buddha International Airport would be ready only by mid-2020. It had originally been slated to be completed next month.
Vital components on order like runway lighting, baggage handling and other equipment that will be fitted in the airport terminal are unlikely to be delivered on time, said Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
The project completion deadline has been postponed multiple times. The latest deadline was March 31. “This closing date is also likely to be missed,” Pokhrel told the annual Tripartite Portfolio Review meeting of the Asian Development Bank on Monday.
The contractor's latest progress schedule shows that the construction will be finished by March-end, but installation of runway lighting and baggage handling systems will probably not be completed by then. Pokhrel told the Post that they could not ascertain how much more time the contractor will need to complete the facility.
Another source at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, who is also directly involved in the project, said that even if the runway lighting equipment was delivered by March-end, the installation would take at least two months.
“Even after the construction is finished, it will take another two months to open the terminal because many tasks need to be done—from checking the safety systems to other security arrangements. In the best scenario, the airport may come into operation by June,” he said, adding that delivery would depend on China’s progress in fighting the virus outbreak.
According to Pokhrel, 40 of the 80 Chinese workers at the construction site had gone home to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and they couldn't return because parts of the country were put on lockdown after the epidemic spread.
“We are not sure when they will return. If the outbreak lasts, it could be disastrous for the project,” said Pokhrel. Replacing the Chinese workers with Nepalis is particularly difficult as they are skilled in building airport infrastructure, he said.
Pokhrel said that the second package of the airport project—installation of communications, navigation and surveillance and meteorological equipment—would also be affected as the first phase infrastructure needs to be completed before the second package can begin.
The runway lighting system, which comes under the scope of the first phase, needs to be completed to install the Instrument Landing System at the airport.
On March 7, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal awarded a $4.83 million contract to install communications, navigation and surveillance and air traffic management systems at Gautam Buddha International Airport to Aeronautical Radio of Thailand.
This project covers installation, testing and commissioning, flight calibration of navigation and communication systems, and flight procedure design. The deadline to complete the second package is also March 31.
Located in south central Nepal, the airport will be the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha. The airport will have a 3,000-metre-long and 45-metre-wide runway. The facility was initially slated to be ready by December 2017.
Asian Development Bank disbursed a record $323.7 million in 2019
The Asian Development Bank said it disbursed a record $323.7 million for development projects in Nepal last year.
“The Asian Development Bank's support to Nepal in the infrastructure sector has increased
in recent years with larger but fewer projects,” said Mukhtor Khamudkhanov, country director for Nepal, speaking at a country portfolio review meeting jointly organised by the bank and the Finance Ministry.
“But while disbursement has picked up pace, challenges remain and overall performance of the bank's operation in Nepal could be much better.”
He said that for better and quicker results on the ground, higher lending needed to be matched with improved implementation and enhanced technical capacity of the implementing agencies.
According to the multilateral lending agency, some of the projects contributing to the record disbursement in 2019 include the Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project ($38.5 million), South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation’s Power System Expansion Project ($28.7 million), Food Safety and Agriculture Commercialisation Programme ($25 million), Regional Urban Development Project ($22.1 million), Rural Connectivity Improvement Project ($20.2 million), and Supporting School Sector Development Programme ($20 million).