POKHARA, Oct 13: One of the main obstacles to bring Pokhara Regional International Airport into operation is cutting off the Ritthepani hill, which has not yet started. Ritthepani hill lies on the east of Pokhara Regional International Airport's 'approach' area. As the work of cutting off the hill on the approach has not started, the calibration flight has also been pushed back as a result.
Earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) had said that the calibration flight will be held in October. However, due to a delay in cutting off the hill, the CAAN said that the calibration flight was not possible until the last week of November. The deadline for bidding tenders to select the contractor company for cutting off the hill ended on Tuesday. The tender was invited with a deadline of 35 days.
After selecting the company from among those who have applied for the work, the actual work to cut off the hill will start soon. The National Pride Project under the CAAN will start cutting the hill soon after selecting the company for the work.
Engineer Krishna Prasad Paudel, Deputy Manager of Pokhara Regional International Airport Project, said that the company will be selected and the cutting work will start soon. According to him, due to the delay in cutting the hill, the calibration flight has not been finalized.
“The deadline for submitting tenders for cutting the hill expired on Tuesday. Now the selection is made after studying about the applied company. It will take a few days for that," he said. "Once the company is selected, the cutting of the hill will start soon. Studying the companies that bid their tenders may take at least two weeks.”
According to Paudel, two hills should be cut in Ritthepani. About 12 meters on the lower side and 40 meters on the higher side should be trimmed. However, cutting only 14 meters is enough for the operation of a calibration flight from the airport. He said that the CAAN will give only one month time to cut a 14 meters hill for calibration flight.
“For the calibration flight, cutting 14 meters of the hill is enough. The company selected for cutting the hill will have to complete the work within one month. Because for calibration, work has to be done quickly,” he said. According to Paudel, it may take up to six months to cut the hill up to 40 meters. It will depend on the capability of the company to be selected.
A calibration flight will take place shortly after the hill is trimmed. Due to the delay in hill cutting, the date of the calibration flight has not yet been confirmed. Paudel estimates that the calibration flight can be done by the last week of November. “The contractor company will be selected this month. After that, it will take about a month to cut 14-meter off the hill. The calibration flight is expected to be in the last week of November,” he said. “If the hill cutting is done quickly, the calibration flight can be moved 2-4 days earlier.” Now, CAAN has estimated that the calibration flight will be conducted at the end of November.
The deadline for the operation of the airport was extended for the second time due to the delay in the cutting of Ritthepani hill on the eastern side of the airport's approach to the runway. 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 facilitate a 'calibration flight'. The deadline that expired on July 10 has been extended twice to next December. As the work was not completed, the deadline was extended for the second time by almost 6 months (until next December).
Since the calibration flight could not take place, the equipment installed at the airport could not be tested. The calibration of the equipment should be tested from the aircraft flying to check if the equipment is connected correctly. In the third week of June, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) and the Department of Forest agreed to cut the hill and its trees.
There are Sal, Chilaune, Katus and other trees on these hills. Along with the hill, 600 trees will be cut down. The hill consisted of 84 large trees and the remaining 516 small trees up to 30 cm in diameter. 40 ropanis area of land in the hills and trees will be cut. This hill is 1.35 km away from the eastern boundary of the airport.
On April 13, 2016, the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli laid the foundation stone of the Pokhara Regional International Airport. The Chinese construction company China CAMCE, which took over the construction of the airport on July 10, 2021 started work a year and a half after the foundation stone was laid. Although there was an outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese company continued to accelerate the construction of the airport.
On March 26 this year, the construction company handed over the airport to the Nepal government after completing 93 percent of the work. The airport is now fully ready for the operation of aircrafts.