A four-member delegation of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) is scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu on Monday to inspect the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and the planned Second International Airport in Nijgadh, Bara. The team is led by AAI Executive Director HS Suresh.
As per the schedule, the team would carry out inspection of the TIA on Monday and a field visit of the SIA site on Tuesday.
Government officials said one of the team’s objective is to inspect whether TIA has sustained damages in the recent earthquake, and offer support with necessary facilities. However, multiple sources said the team’s major objective is to take ahead the plan of developing the SIA project as well as expansion of the Kathmandu airport.
On April 25, Abhay Thakur, joint secretary in-charge of Nepal at the Indian foreign ministry, speaking at a conference on investment opportunities in Nepal, said India was interested in developing airports in Nijgadh as well as in the expansion of the Kathmandu airport. “A delegation from the AAI is expected to visit Nepal soon to take these plans forward,” he had told the Indian media.
The event was organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and was also attended by then Nepal’s ambassador designate Deep Kumar Upadhyay.
Subsequently, India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj urged the Nepal government to expedite the construction of the Kathmandu -Tarai Fast Track and SIA projects with India’s participation.
“Work on construction of the Nijgadh airport with India’s participation should be expedited. These projects will create new job opportunities, contribute to revenue, and facilitate long-term recovery,” said Swaraj at the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction in Kathmandu on June 25.
Suresh Acharya, joint-secretary of the Tourism Ministry, said no damage is reported at the TIA and that the Nepali side would make the Indian delegation clear about it.
“Presently, we do not need support for TIA enhancement as we have a number of ongoing projects carried out by the Asian Development Bank and JICA.”
He said India has been expressing interest in the development of the SIA, but until now there are no such plans to involve India. “It should be clear there would not be any formal commitments or agreements regarding these two projects during the Indian team’s this visit,” he said.
As the SIA in the southern border point would be more accessible for a large population of Bihar, India is more concerned about it, said a government official.
The SIA scheme envisions building a modern airport in Nijgadh, which is 175 km from Kathmandu , as an alternative to congestion and winter fog at TIA, the country’s sole aerial gateway.
The estimated cost for the first phase, according to the feasibility study, would be $650 million. The airport will be able to handle 15 million passengers annually and accommodate the super jumbo Airbus 380 after the first phase of construction.
By the end of the third phase of construction, the airport will have a parallel runway enabling it to handle 60 million passengers annually. If the SIA is built, it will be an air hub joining 27 cities in South Asia and generate over 100,000 jobs.
Some officials said the plan floated by the Investment Board Nepal (IBN) to bundle the TIA and the SIA and award it to a single developer would have interested India.
The IBN had said as it seems difficult to find investors for the SIA until the Kathmandu -Tarai Fast Track is built, and the project is unlikely to be profitable for the next 20-25 years as long as an airport is operated in Kathmandu , both the projects should be allotted to a single company so that the profit raised from TIA would compensate the SIA.
South Korea-based Land Mark Worldwide Company that had prepared the detailed feasibility study of the SIA has recommended introducing a clear aviation policy for diverting 70 percent of the traffic from TIA to the SIA to make the project viable.