The country’s only international airport Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and domestic terminal within the TIA remained closed for eight hours on Friday at a time when major highways and several roads connecting cities, towns and villages were disrupted due to incessant rains across the country. The TIA was brought to standstill from 11 am to 7 pm when an aircraft of Yeti Airlines coming from Nepalgunj skidded off the runway. The aircraft carrying 66 passengers and three crew members averted any serious crisis as all on board were safe. But it took eight hours to clear the airstrip by removing the aircraft that stuck on grassy land around 10 meters off the runway and resume flight operation. According to officials, over 100 international as well as domestic flights to and from the airport were either diverted or delayed during the time. Thousands of passengers were affected due to the problem.
This is however not the first time that this type of crisis occurred at the country’s sole international airport. Every time, when a major or minor incident takes place at the TIA, the airport officials have no option but to divert and delay the flights and shut the airport. In March, 2015, the airport was completely closed for four days following an aircraft of Turkish Airlines carrying 224 people crash-landed at the TIA. The airport couldn’t operate any flights for days as it took four days to remove the plane and clear the runway. At the time, concerned authorities as well all other stakeholders highlighted the country’s vulnerability in air connectivity and emphasized the need of addressing the issue immediately. But everyone forgot the matter immediately after the crisis was managed for the time.
The Friday’s incident has once again exposed our vulnerability and underscored the urgency of addressing the situation by building another international airport without any further delay. However, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli doesn’t seem to be feeling the pressure to manage the airport and address several other issues in tourism and civil aviation sector. The Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation has remained without minister for the last five months since Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari died in helicopter crash in February. All the initiatives he had taken to revive the tourism and civil aviation sector are left incomplete. When there is any small or major incident at TIA, all the flights approaching the airport must be diverted to other countries due to lack of an alternative international airport within the country. The plan to build Second International Airport in Nijgadh Bara has courted some controversies. No initiative has been taken to settle these matters since the death of Adhikari. Now, the only option to address this issue is to expedite construction of Bhairahawa-based Gautam Buddha International Airport and Pokhara International Airport and complete them as soon as possible. Completion of these airports will help manage the crisis as well as ease the congestion in the only international airport, TIA. This has become imperative also in view of the government’s Visit Nepal Year 2020 that aims to bring two million tourists next year.