Tourism Ministry begins looking for a partner to run Bhairahawa airportThe facility is envisaged to become the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini.
The Tourism Ministry has begun looking for a foreign management partner to run Bhairahawa international airport as it is nearing completion. The successful candidate will be selected through open competition.
The completion date is still uncertain as the second package of the construction work has not started because the coronavirus has prevented the contractor from coming to Nepal. This task will take at least six months, officials said.
Nepal saw rapid growth in passenger and aircraft movement in the last two decades, and the resulting disarray has highlighted the country's inadequate aviation infrastructure and the incompetence of Nepali officials in managing its sole international airport.
Tourism Joint Secretary Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane told the Post that after ending the process of appointing Germany’s Munich Airport as the operator of Gautam Buddha International Airport through a government-to-government deal, they have begun a fresh process to find another partner.
“We will study the appropriate modality—the management, financial and other aspects,” he said.
Since the government has given the lucrative ground handling job at the new airport to Nepal Airlines, the operation modality of the terminal could be different as it may have to fund the new management in the initial phase, according to officials.
Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said that the airport may not see as many passengers as expected in the beginning, and the government may have to pay its managing partner.
“The airport taxes that passengers pay will be a major source of income for the company that will manage the airport,” he said, adding that the modality will determine the financial and operational aspects of the contract.
The ministry has received the go-ahead from the cabinet to induct a foreign management partner for the airport.
Located in south central Nepal, the airport has been developed under the Asian Development Bank's South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project. It is envisaged to become the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha.
The financier has also requested the government to allow a foreign management partner to operate the airport.
Almost all the civil works at Gautam Buddha International Airport, which has a 3,000-metre-long and 45-metre-wide runway, have been completed.
The installation of communications, navigation and surveillance equipment, including the meteorological instruments, is being held up due to Covid-19.
The Thai company contracted to install the equipment is not ready to come to Nepal immediately because of infection risks.
According to officials at the aviation authority, it may be another year before the airport is ready.
The earlier process to appoint Munich Airport for the operation of Gautam Buddha International Airport ended abruptly after a government committee stated that a number of projects planned under government-to-government deals had sparked controversy over lack of transparency.
The government is under heavy pressure to improve the efficiency of the sole international airport in Kathmandu that is managed by the Civil Aviation Authority.
In June 2019, the cabinet had given its 'in principle' approval to the Tourism Ministry’s proposal to appoint foreign firms through a government-to-government deal.
Subsequently, in November 2019, the government formed a six-member team to negotiate with the German airport after it expressed interest in operating the facility in Bhairahawa in January. The Tourism Ministry had also asked the company to submit a detailed plan.
But before Munich Airport could submit its detailed plan, including the operation modality, fees and revenue sharing system, the Covid-19 pandemic came up.
Questions over transparency have been raised regarding a number of G2G projects such as the setting up of a security printing press and procurement of machine-readable passports, satellite and medical equipment. Most of the projects were eventually cancelled. The latest controversy being the procurement of six Chinese-made planes for Nepal Airlines.
Construction work at Gautam Buddha International Airport began in January 2015. The Civil Aviation Authority awarded the Rs6.22-billion contract to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013.
The airport was initially slated to be ready in December 2017. But the project encountered multiple hurdles that pushed back the completion deadline repeatedly.