Civil aviation authority cuts budget sharply amid uncertainty over international flights and travelThe authority’s budget has come down to Rs41 billion but has targets to complete two international airports and the extension of parallel taxiway at Kathmandu airport by the end of fiscal year.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has slashed its annual budget as its incomes are expected to dry up significantly this fiscal year due to the uncertainty over regular flights movement even though the government plans to open the country’s sole international airport from August 17.
The largest portion of the authority’s income comes from passengers and landing and parking charges of airplanes.
The board of directors of the country’s civil aviation body on Monday approved a budget of Rs41.11 billion to execute key programmes and projects for the fiscal year 2020-21, down from Rs47 billion last fiscal year. The aviation body was able to spend only 42 percent of the budget last fiscal year as most of its projects were affected by the lockdown.
“The budget focuses on giving continuity to the ongoing infrastructure projects. There are only a few new projects planned for this fiscal year,” said Raj Kumar Chhetri, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. “The budget has been reduced based on the projection that flights and passenger movement would not fully resume this year.”
The airport development tax, passenger service charge, parking and navigation charges account for the major earnings of the airport. Nearly, Rs5 billion is collected from passengers, and as airport development tax and passenger service charge only.
According to the authority, a significant chunk of the budget has been allocated for three major infrastructure projects—Gautam Buddha International Airport Project in Bhairahawa, Pokhara International Airport Project and parallel taxiway expansion at the Tribhuvan International Airport, all of which targeted to be completed by the fiscal year ending mid-July 2021.
After several postponements, the Gautam Buddha International Airport was slated for completion in March. Most of the equipment for the airport would come from China, but the shipment schedule went haywire after Covid-19 cases were first reported in Wuhan in December 2019, which put an end to manufacturing and supply.
The project, which has achieved 91 percent physical progress, has set the completion deadline of December. According to airport officials, if they get technicians in August to install the runway lighting system and other communication and navigational aids, the airport will be ready for operation by the end of this year.
Pokhara airport was planned to be completed six months before the July 10, 2021 deadline, but the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the plan. According to Chhetri, if works continue smoothly, Pokhara airport could still meet its deadline. The Chinese-funed airport has made 60 percent physical progress as of July-end.
This fiscal year, the civil aviation authority plans to complete the extension of parallel taxiways at the Tribhuvan International Airport—in the northern and southern parts of the runway. The northern part, which is 1,400 metres long, is jointly funded by the government and the Asian Development Bank. The civil aviation authority is extending 1,000 metres in the southern part with its own resources.
As the taxiway does not cover the full length of the runway, aircraft face delays before landing and taking off as they have to wait for other aircraft to clear the runway, creating congestion. Once the taxiway project is completed, traffic congestion at the country’s only international airport is expected to reduce significantly.
The civil aviation authority this fiscal plans to replace the existing passenger services system, which is being handled by SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques), a multinational information technology company providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry.
The Kathmandu airport had signed a seven-year agreement with SITA in 2011. “Budget has been allocated to appoint a new vendor for the passenger processing system. We will issue a global competitive bidding to select one,” said the airport official.
Meanwhile, the Tribhuvan International Airport has decided to replace paper strips and install electronic flight strips at the air traffic control tower. The electronic flight-progress strip system improves situational awareness, increases safety, reduces controller workload and improves the working environment, says the airport authority.
Chettri said that a significant amount of budget has been allocated for additional land acquisition for the Gautam Buddha International Airport project and Pokhara international Airport, and four other domestic airports—Taplejung, Biratnagar, Chandragadi and Rajbiraj.