Heartened by having initiated steps for implementation of two regional international airport projects in Bhairahawa and Pokhara, the government has moved to revive the stalled second international airport (SIA) project in Nijgadh, Bara district.
The SIA scheme envisions building a modern airport in the southern plains 175 km from Kathmandu as an alternative to congestion and winter fog at Tribhuvan International Airport, the country’s sole aerial gateway.
Government officials said that they were presently engaged in clearing land for the airport and that they planned to discuss the appropriate method for the airport’s development after the Tihar festival. A budget of Rs 500 million has been earmarked this year to carry out initial preparations for the multi-million dollar project.
Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, said that the government had estimated that 80 sq km of land would be required for the airport.
However, it has planned to acquire another 10 sq km. More than 90 percent of the land proposed to be taken over for the project is forest land. Likewise, there are an estimated 1,450 squatters, including landless squatters, occupying the project site. “It will take at least a year to clear the land and relocate the people,” said Lamichhane.
However, the airport’s construction modalities have not yet been determined. The government is unsure about the appropriate method to build the airport, whether to go for a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) or public-private-partnership (PPP) model or obtain assistance from donors.
Lamichhane said that a powerful committee would likely be formed to look into all the issues. In April 2012, Korea’s Landmark Worldwide Company had submitted a study report of the project to the Tourism Ministry which recommended using the BOOT modality.
The company has spent $3.55 million on the detailed and design feasibility study. The government had awarded the contract to Landmark in March 2010.
Subsequently, the report was sent to the BOOT committee of the National Planning Commission. Since then, it has been gathering dust.
The project had been assigned to Investment Board Nepal with instructions to fast-track it under a single window. As there was no sign of progress in the country’s dream project under the board, the then tourism minister Bhim Acharya had even made an effort to bring the project back to the Tourism Ministry.
Since the board had been repeatedly asking the Tourism Ministry for the study report, the ministry had told the then Khil Raj Regmi-led administration that if the board wanted the report, it should be ready to pay Landmark’s $3.55 million fee. But the Cabinet returned the proposal. Recently, newly appointed Tourism Minister Deepak Chandra Amatya told a meeting of the parliamentary Development Committee that the project was making no progress because of confusion over the implementing agency. The committee then directed the government to expedite the project and submit monthly progress reports to it.
Similarly, the parliamentary International Relations and Labour Committee directed the ministry to move the project forward.
As per Landmark’s feasibility study, the proposed airport would be able to handle 15 million passengers annually and even accommodate the super jumbo Airbus 380 after the first phase of construction.
The estimated investment for the first phase, according to the feasibility study, would be $600 million.
In the second phase, the airport would be expanded to accommodate 30 million passengers annually.
By the end of the third phase of construction, the airport would have a parallel runway enabling it to handle 60 million passengers annually.
The airport would have a three-storied terminal building with the latest systems and highly intelligent security equipment.
The study has stated that a Kathmandu -Tarai fast track highway should be completed at least six months before the airport goes into commercial operation.