After 40 years it looks like Pokhara’s new international airport is finally going ahead
SIRAN LIANG in POKHARA
One of the side-effects of the Indian blockade is that the government in Kathmandu is trying to diversify its transportation links to the outside world, which means that it is finally getting serious about pushing the new international airport in Pokhara.
First envisaged 40 years ago, Pokhara’s new airport is being financed by the Chinese Ex-Im Bank and although it got the go-ahead during the Maoist-led government in 2009, it wasn’t moving ahead as fast as hoped. Now, the only thing that remains to be done is top sign a loan agreement during Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel’s visit to Beijing next week.
“We are ready to start the project once the loan agreement is signed, there is no problem on Nepal side,” airport project director Pradeep Adhikari told Nepali Times. He added that the proposal is now with China’s Finance Ministry, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has been lobbying hard for the loan agreement to be expedited.
Chinese officials confirm to Nepali Times that the project is “on track”. In 2014, China’s Exim Bank agreed to provide a soft loan of $215.95 million for the new airport which is situated 4 km east of the city. Located in Chhinedanda, the new airport will have a 2,500 m runway and be able to accommodate Airbus 320s and Boeing 757s.
“The people of Pokhara are very supportive and they want the project to go ahead at any cost, and so do the Chinese,” Adhikari said. CAAN had been dealing with compensation for landowners, carrying out construction work like drainage structure, access road and finalising flight procedures for the new airport. Bidding for the project was held in 2012, and the contract was awarded to China CAMC Engineering Co Ltd and the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract signed in 2014.
Biplab Paudel of the Hotel Association Nepal in Pokhara is impatient with the delays, and led protests and hunger strikes in 2013 to pressure the government to approve the new airport. He reckons India has been putting pressure on senior government officials in Kathmandu not to go ahead with the airport project.
After the new international airport comes into operation the existing one will be turned into prime urban real estate and generate revenue for CAAN. “Our plan for the next few years is just to maintain the basic condition of the domestic airport because the government’s investment has shifted to the new one,” says Dipak Baral of CAAN in Pokhara.
The new airport will handle domestic flights as well as direct links for tourists who want to bypass Kathmandu, and will also cater to passengers from central Nepal flying to the Gulf or Malaysia. The government wants to improve road infrastructure and urban planning in Pokhara to coincide with the opening of the new airport.
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