Nijgadh Airport: Why Nepal Needs to Execute Its Aiport Plan?

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The long-awaited plan to build an international airport in Nijgadh of Bara district is likely to advance soon as a team of experts has called on the government to carry out the mega aviation infrastructure project at the earliest.

The group has realised the need for Nepal to have an international airport with full capacity to manage the growing air traffic in order to achieve the long-term goals of development and prosperity. In line with the government’s decision taken on August 11 this year, the team was formed to conduct a feasibility study of a modern airport in Nijgadh.

The government took that step as per an order issued by the Supreme Court (SC).  Coordinator of the team Birendra Bahadur Deuja submitted the report to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Sunday. The report suggests that about 4,000 hectares of land from around 9,000 hectares located between the Pasaha River and the Bakaiya River alongside the East-West Highway and the Kathmandu-Terai Fast Track expressway is a suitable location for the proposed airport.

Policymakers put forward the idea of building an alternative international airport after the country witnessed two major air accidents in 1992. An aircraft of Thai Airways International crashed at Ghyangphedi of Nuwakot while a plane belonging to Pakistan International Airlines crashed at Bhattedanda of Lalitpur. Airplanes sometimes find it difficult landing at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) due to the challenging topography and unpredictable weather conditions.

The TIA has also reached its saturation point with a rapid increase in the number of big and small planes over the years. In 2017, the government had received a detailed feasibility study report on the airport from Landmark Worldwide Company which had prepared the report at a cost of $ 3.55 million. 

The government has also invested additional Rs. 2 billion to pay compensation for the land while the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has spent about Rs. 300 million on revising the master plan. The 72-km expressway has been under construction.

It would be easier for the country to carry passengers from the airport to Kathmandu in an hour or so. Although such an airport has been necessary for Nepal, as a landlocked nation, to boost its tourism and business sectors, the project has failed to be implemented due to issues related to budgetary constraints and possible environmental damage. According to an estimate, some 2.4 million trees need be cut down to construct the airport. 

The group has suggested that a development authority with special powers should be formed to build the airport in a time-bound manner.  It should also carry out various activities such as prevention of river erosion and make other conservation efforts. As per the report, trees only in 1,500 hectares of area could be felled in the first phase.

The group has also asked the government to fulfil its constitutional obligations of making essential legal provisions for maintaining an appropriate balance between development and the environment. Meanwhile, the report proposes two routes enabling aeroplanes to fly in the Nepali sky when the airport comes into operation in its full capacity. These routes include the Kathmandu-Guwahati-Kunming and Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-New Delhi. Once these routes  are made two-way, they are expected to considerably reduce the distance, time and fuel consumption of international flights to and from countries in Europe, the Middle East, East Asia and the Pacific Regions. This means that the carbon-emissions will also be reduced significantly.    

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