Monsoon holds up finishing touches at Bhairahawa international airportGautam Buddha International Airport has been rescheduled to open in the beginning of 2022.
The launch date for Gautam Buddha International Airport has been pushed back once again due to the monsoon following a series of postponements caused by construction delays and the coronavirus outbreak.
The newly built facility in Bhairahawa, now rescheduled to open in the beginning of 2022, will be Nepal's second air gateway after Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
The onset of the rainy season has forced officials to put off tests of the navigation and communication equipment till October.
Foreign technicians went to work despite Covid-19 and have completed installing the communication, navigation and surveillance, air traffic management and meteorological equipment.
"But we cannot conduct tests during the monsoon season," said Pravin Neupane, engineer for the second package of the project. “We have to wait until the rains stop.” In Nepal, the monsoon normally starts in mid-May and lasts till September-end.
"The project was expected to complete all tasks including tests and calibration of the communication and navigation equipment, but the second wave of Covid-19 which started in mid-April upset the timetable," said Neupane.
Work stopped for nearly a year due to the first wave of Covid-19 after more than 90 percent of the construction had been completed.
As soon as Nepal witnessed a significant drop in the virus caseload and a worldwide vaccination drive started, the contractor mobilised skilled workers from foreign countries.
On September 12, 2020, the cabinet allowed projects to bring technicians from abroad since several of them had ground to a halt with skilled workers stuck in different countries due to the lockdown imposed in Nepal to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The experts had installed the instrument landing system (ILS) and VOR/DME, a radio beacon that combines a VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) with a distance measuring equipment (DME).
The ILS provides an approach path for precise alignment and descent of an aircraft on final approach to the runway.
The VOR is a type of short-range radio navigation system for aircraft, enabling aircraft with a receiving unit to determine its position and stay on course by receiving radio signals transmitted by a network of fixed ground radio signals.
The DME is often collocated with a VOR to give pilots a precise indication of the aircraft's distance.
“But after the installation was completed, Nepal was struck by a second wave of the coronavirus restricting travel movement,” said Neupane.
According to him, the Thai company has informed the project that they can begin the calibration of the equipment only after the Covid-19 situation in Nepal improves.
A technical test or calibration needs to be done with a special flight at an altitude of 43,000 feet. Tests need to be conducted for each route.
“As the situation remained uncertain, and in case the Thai company did not show up, we decided to find an alternative by requesting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States to conduct the calibration. “But the FAA replied that under the current situation, it could not come to Nepal.”
The FAA is an agency of the US government responsible for the regulation of aircraft and airports, and it had conducted flight inspections of the radar system at Bhatte Danda in Lalitpur in 2017.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has also written to the Airport Authority of India to do the flight calibration of the newly installed infrastructure in Bhairahawa. “The Indian government is positive about our request; but due to the monsoon, we cannot go ahead with the calibration,” said Neupane. "So we have to wait until September.”
Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said that most of the work at the new airport had been completed.
“If the calibration of the navigation and communication equipment is completed in September, it will take another three months to bring the airport into operation by publishing the air routes in the Aeronautical Information Publication.”
The Aeronautical Information Publication is published by the state or by an entity authorised by the state.
Officials said the airport would be ready for commercial operation by the beginning of 2022 if there were no further glitches.
The Bhairahawa international airport project has earned a place among the list of longest running construction projects in the country after coming to a halt on various occasions, the last time due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Construction started in 2013, and was expected to be completed in 2017. But the project encountered multiple hurdles which pushed back the completion deadline several times. The latest completion target had been set for December 2019—in time for the Visit Nepal 2020 tourism campaign. The airport is now slated to open in early-2022.
Located in south central Nepal, Gautam Buddha International 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 Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had awarded the Rs6.22 billion civil works component, the first package, to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013.