Nepali Times: After 20 years, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Nijgad has finally been approved. What is next?
We will sign an MoU with the Nepal Army in a few days. The military will fell trees and build periphery roads. It may take two years to clear the construction site. But we will initiate the international bidding process within six months. We will finalise land acquisition and resettlement of the 1,400 families living at the site, either providing them with cash or a relocation site. We will even resettle those who do not have land titles. The project will not face any more delays, and the airport could be ready in less than 10 years.
Why this sudden urgency?
We badly need a second international airport. The only international airport we now have in Kathmandu is congested, and cannot be expanded.
But there are two more international airports coming up in Bhairawa and Pokhara …
You cannot compare Bhairawa and Pokhara with Nijgad. Not even Kathmandu will match Nijgad Airport’s scale and scope. It will be an international air hub — a real game changer for Nepal’s economy. International flights from over two dozen cities will be landing every day, tens of thousands of passengers will catch connecting flights. Planes will also be making stopovers for refueling. It will be bigger, more advanced and busier than any other airport in Nepal.
Why not upgrade nearby Simara airport instead of clearing valuable forests?
Nijgad is Nijgad. It is an ideal place for an international hub airport not just from a business standpoint, but also because of climate. This is one place in the Tarai which remains largely unaffected by fog even in winter.
But Simara is just 10 km away from Nijgad.
Yes, but even that short distance makes a huge difference.
Over 2.4 million trees have to be cut to clear the site.
We will plant 25 saplings elsewhere for every single tree that is felled. We are also looking at minimizing the felling. One option is to not build the adjacent airport city planned for the second phase.
What is the economic viability of an airport so far away from the capital?
Nijgad Airport’s future depends on Kathmandu-Tarai fast-track highway. But this airport will be a hub, as I said, and will not depend solely on Kathmandu traffic. In fact, we think only 10% of the total traffic will be for Kathmandu.
Nepal has only one entry point for international flights from Indian air space. Don’t we need more two-way routes for Bhairawa, Pokhara and Nijgad?
We are not just a land-locked but also air-locked country at the moment. But we are negotiating with India for more air routes. A technical team from the Airports Authority of India will come to Nepal next month for talks, India is amenable to new entry points through Biratnagar and Nepalganj, and we are are also seeking Mahendranagar, Bhairawa and Janakpur.
Are you serious about a domestic airport in Kavre?
I am serious because it will ease traffic congestion at Kathmandu Airport by 31% . I am also pushing for inter-provincial air connections with Pokhara-Bhairawa, Pokhara-Biratnagar and Pokhara-Nepalganj flights.
People think I am connecting Pokhara to other cities because I am an MP from there, but Pokhara has huge growth potential. The airport will service flights to Lukla, Tumlingtar and other mountain destinations, and we can double the capacity for mountain flights, and help the tourism industry.