Construction of new international airport in Pokhara on track despite lockdownKey equipment like lighting systems, communication and navigation aids, baggage handling and other goods, however, have been stranded in Kolkata and Kerung.
Lal Prasad Sharma
The Pokhara International Airport project has achieved 59 percent of physical progress as of mid-June and the facility is on track to be completed by its stipulated deadline of July next year, despite the lockdown that impacted most of the development projects in the country, the project officials said.
The facility will serve as the aerial gateway to the Annapurna region, one of Nepal's major trekking destinations. The new airport is located at Chinnedanda, 3 km east of the existing domestic airport.
The project continued its construction activities during the lockdown and currently, there are 250 Chinese and 100 Nepali workers working on the project daily.
The project has completed all 14 buildings including a terminal building, air traffic control tower, immigration office, customs, hangar, cargo, administrative, fire control, quarantine and rescue buildings.
Workers are currently working on the interior decoration of the constructed buildings. The drainage system including the runways, taxiways, international and domestic aprons have already been constructed.
The airport project faced a cement shortage during the lockdown but the problem has been resolved now, project officials said.
However, works related to the installation of runway lighting systems, communication and navigation, baggage handling and other equipment are expected to be delayed as the certain equipment and goods are stranded in Kolkata, India and Kerung, China.
The project said that the issue related to the stranded equipment and goods has been relayed to the Prime Minister's Office. The main road connecting the airport will be completed within 10 days, project officials said.
Vinesh Munankarmi, the chief of the project, said that construction would speed if the stranded equipment and goods were delivered.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the project contractor was hopeful that the project would be completed six months ahead of schedule but that’s unlikely now.
China CAMC Engineering won the construction contract for the project in May 2014. The construction work of the airport was started in July 2017. The government signed a $215.96 million soft loan agreement with China EXIM Bank in March 2016 to finance the construction of the airport.
"But based on the current pace of construction, we are confident that the project will be completed on time if the stranded equipment and goods are delivered," said Munankarmi.
If there was no lockdown, the project would have achieved 70 percent of the physical progress by now," he said.
Initially, to increase the number of workers, the project had planned to bring workers from China and keep them in quarantine before allowing them to work in the project but government hospitals were so busy that they denied conducting PCR tests on the foreign workers. The test facility was not available at private hospitals, said Munankarmi.
According to the agreement, the contractor company should complete the work by July 10, 2021, and then hand it over to the government.
Sanjeev Khadka, a project engineer, said that the project would be completed on schedule as they expect the stranded equipment and goods to arrive shortly.
As per the agreement, 25 percent of the loan from China EXIM Bank is interest-free. The interest on the rest of the loan has been fixed at 2 percent per annum. The loan repayment period has been fixed at 20 years, including a grace period of seven years where no interest will be charged. The government will bear any risk from fluctuations in the foreign exchange rate.
The airport is being built under the engineering procurement and construction model. Under this model, a single contractor takes responsibility for all components like design, engineering, construction and procurement. The contract binds the contractor to deliver the project at the stipulated time and predetermined price regardless of any possible cost overruns.
The government had acquired 3,106 ropanis of land for the airport in 1975.