Nepal to sign deal with India for periodic airport checksAirport surveillance and radar flight inspections have to be conducted every year, but it has not happened for two years due to Covid-19.
The Tourism Ministry has given the green signal to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to sign a long-term government-to-government deal with India for periodic airport surveillance and radar flight inspections to avoid being possibly forced into contracting unreliable companies amid the endless Covid-19 crisis.
Nepal had recently asked India for help to conduct a flight inspection of the newly installed navigation and communication infrastructure at Bhairahawa international airport as the original contractor has been staying away due to the virus outbreak.
Raj Kumar Chettri, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, told the Post the authority had also asked the Airport Authority of India whether it could support Nepal in conducting surveillance of navigation and communication infrastructure of all airports, apart from the new airport in Bhairahawa.
“Based on the positive response from India, Nepal decided to engage the Airport Authority of India for at least five years,” he said, adding that the Tourism Ministry had consented to the proposal of Nepal’s civil aviation body.
The project has to be passed by the civil aviation board which the tourism minister chairs. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who also holds the tourism portfolio, is the chairman of the civil aviation body.
“We had an appointment with Prime Minister Deuba for a board meeting this week, but could not meet him due to his busy schedule. Another meeting has been planned,” said Chettri. But the aviation authority is not sure of the date.
Airport surveillance and radar flight inspections have to be conducted every year, but Nepal has not been able to do it for the last two years due to Covid-19.
Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the ministry who looks after aviation affairs, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal itself could initiate the process as per the law, but the board has to approve it.
“The decision was made to avoid having to contract non-reliable companies amid the Covid-19 crisis. Nepal urgently needs to conduct the inspection, but it is difficult bringing foreign experts under the circumstances, and that could delay the periodic test,” said Lamichhane.
“The government-to-government deal will ensure testing of the equipment and airport in a timely manner.”
According to him, the international airport in Bhairahawa is fitted with the instrument landing system (ILS) and it needs to be tested every six months. “The deal will save us the hassle of conducting tenders at a time of crisis.”
Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa in south central Nepal is at the final stages of completion, and is slated to be ready for commercial operation by the beginning of 2022.
It will have a 3,000-metre-long and 45-metre-wide runway, and be the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha.
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.
The second package includes supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of Communication, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management, including meteorological equipment and other related services.
Work stopped after the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020. Despite the lockdowns enforced on different occasions, the installation of the equipment has been completed.
The Thai company has informed the airport project that they can begin the calibration of the equipment only after the Covid-19 situation in Nepal improves.
That does not seem likely anytime soon as Covid cases continue unabated following a relaxation of the prohibitory orders. Nepal on Friday reported 1,558 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking the nationwide infection tally to 783,075.
The civil aviation body had approached the South Korean and Indian governments and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States to conduct the tests, but only the southern neighbour responded positively.
The FAA, an agency of the US government responsible for the regulation of aircraft and airports, had conducted flight inspections of the radar system at Bhatte Danda in Lalitpur in 2017.
A technical test or calibration needs to be done with a special aircraft at an altitude of 43,000 feet. Tests need to be conducted for each route.
“If the government-to-government deal is signed, the testing of the equipment will begin after the monsoon,” according to civil aviation authority officials.