Pokhara Regional Int'l Airport: Inauguration in two months, but major obstacles remain

Published On: October 30, 2022 08:00 PM NPT By: Santosh Pokharel

POKHARA, Oct 30: It's almost three months ago that the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), the regulatory body of Nepal's airspace, set the date of operation of Pokhara Regional International Airport on January 1, 2023. If the airport starts its operation on the day specified by the authority, the flights should operate from the airport in the next two months.

However, the difficulties when the authority set the date for bringing the airport into operation almost three months ago still remain the same. The main obstacles to the operation of the airport have not been removed yet. The authority has already said that flights will not be operated from the regional international airport until these obstacles are removed.

Landfill site relocation is considered to be the main obstacle to airport operations. Pokhara Metropolis has been managing the city's waste in the Bachchebuduwa area of ​​Pokhara-14. It is only about two kilometers away from the airport. Stakeholders are concerned that the landfill site will attract birds to the airport area and cause risks to flights to and from the airport. However, bird experts say that the currently used landfill site should be cleared at least six months before the airport comes into operation. That time has passed. With only two months to go, the landfill site is yet to be relocated. The metropolis is responsible for moving the landfill site.

Dhanraj Acharya, Mayor of Pokhara metropolis, said that work is being done so that the landfill site does not hinder the operation of the airport. He said that rather than moving the landfill site to another place, preparations are being made to install a waste processing plant.

Similarly Mayor Acharya said that waste management is not easy and some temporary and permanent structures will be made to manage the waste. "The current landfill site will be removed from there by the day of the airport's operation," he said, "We are managing the landfill site in such a way that it will never be needed."

Another obstacle to bringing the airport into operation is cutting off Ritthepani Hill on the eastern approach of the runway. "For the calibration flight, the hill must be cut. A contractor company has been selected for hill-cutting," said Mayor Acharya.

The authority was saying that the calibration flight will be held in October. However, as the cutting of the hill was delayed, the day of the calibration flight has not been fixed. Two hills should be cut in Ritthepani in which 12 meters on the lower side and 40 meters on the higher side should be cut. However, only 14 meters height is to be cut for calibration flight at present. The authority has said that only one month will be given to cut the 14 meter hill for calibration flight.

Earlier, the deadline for the airport was extended for a ⁹second time due to the delay in cutting Ritthepani Hill on the eastern side of the airport's 'approach', as technical tests could not be carried out. Although the company that has taken over the construction of the airport has completed all the physical infrastructure work, it has not been able to conduct a 'calibration flight'. The deadline that expired on July 10 has been extended twice to December. As the work was not completed, the deadline was extended for the second time by almost six months (until December).

This airport in Pokhara was built by the Chinese construction company China CAMC Engineering. CAMCE is also responsible for conducting calibration flights. For the first time, the deadline was extended for one year because the construction of the airport could not be completed within the stipulated time due to the coronavirus infection and some internal problems. This airport was supposed to be handed over on July 10, 2021, if the work was done according to the plan. However, it was delayed by one year due to COVID-19. Since the Chinese company is responsible for the calibration flight, the manufacturing company will bring the aircraft and conduct calibration flight.

Since the calibration flight could not take place, the equipment installed at the airport could not be tested. According to CAAN sources, commercial flights can be conducted only after at least two months of the calibration flight. However, due to the absence of a calibration flight till date, sources say that there is suspicion that the flight will not start at the time specified by the authority. "There has been no calibration flight yet. Therefore, commercial flights are not possible from January 1. It is not possible to announce the date now," said the source.

According to sources, risk assessment should be done after the calibration flight. During the risk assessment, a team of experts studies the ways to identify and minimize all the risks that may occur while operating a flight from the airport. Risk assessment will be done only after the calibration flight. Experts are saying that this airport is at high risk due to birds. Experts have estimated that it will take six months to move the landfill site and replace the bird's nest. Sources said that there is not enough time for that. “It is a bird-risk area. That's why it's not easy," the source said.

Similarly, Pomnarayan Shrestha, chairman of the Pokhara Tourism Council, said, "If the working style continues, there is a suspicion that the Pokhara Regional International Airport will turn into a grassy field." 

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