Construction workers slog away at Bhairahawa airport despite lockdownBut completion is still some way off due to lack of essential equipment, said officials.
Construction work at Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa continues without missing a beat despite the lockdown that has shut down the entire country.
The economy has ground to a halt with trade, industry, agriculture, transportation and movement of people banned from the third week of March as part of the effort to keep Covid-19 in check.
Despite the stay-at-home order for everybody else, nearly 150 workers are continuing their duties at the construction site of Nepal's second international airport in Bhairahawa. But it's still 'highly unlikely' that the national pride project will be completed as planned, and the airport will come into operation this year, officials said.
The construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport in southern Nepal, which serves as the gateway to the birthplace of Buddha, was due to be completed by March and come into operation by June.
"Construction work is ongoing at this time of crisis, but completion is still some way off due to lack of essential equipment like runway lights, conveyor belts and navigation and weather equipment," said Prabesh Adhikari, chief of the project.
It is not certain when the lockdown will be eased and the project contractor will deliver the necessary materials.
"The main equipment ordered from different countries has not arrived due to the global lockdown put in place as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic," said Adhikari.
Locally, the project may face problems obtaining riverbed construction materials like gravel and sand due to the lockdown, and the existing stocks are going down rapidly, he said.
“If it weren't for the coronavirus, the airport would have reached the operational phase at this time,” said Adhikari.
The contractor has not imported runway lights and conveyor belts or baggage handling systems, including the technicians to install them, under the first civil works package.
This equipment was slated to arrive through the Rasuwagadhi border point by January-end.
In addition, the skilled Chinese technicians who returned to their homes to celebrate the new year on January 25 got stuck as China imposed a lockdown due to the coronavirus.
The second package of the works includes installation of communication and navigational and weather management systems. Aero Thai, a state-owned company of Thailand, won the contract for the second package.
"Most of the equipment required for the second package has already arrived while a few pieces are stranded at the factory," said Adhikari.
A technician at the project said that the installation of the equipment would take at least two months. And another two months will be required to conduct tests of the equipment and issue the certification for the airport, he said.
"Even if the situation returns to normalcy by June, it will take at least until November to complete all the work," he said, adding that given this optimistic timeframe, the airport may come into operation next year.
Currently, workers are installing air conditioners, marble floors and decorative objects at the terminal, project officials said.
The construction of the project was initially scheduled to be completed in December 2017, but various problems including the devastating earthquake of April 2015 followed by a trade embargo imposed by India delayed work.