Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) returned to normal operations from Saturday, two weeks after handling heavy traffic of chartered, rescue and humanitarian aid flights after the April 25 earthquake.
But restrictions imposed on the landing of heavy chartered jets, or aircraft above 196 tonnes, will stay until May 20, the airport authority said on Saturday.
The country’s sole international airport handled 5,170 flights in the two weeks after the country was rattled by the magnitude 7.9 quake. There were 1,831 rescue operations, 1,825 domestic flights, and 1,514 international scheduled flights, including chartered operation.
“The TIA proved to be an essential piece of civilian infrastructure, and the main lifeline for supplying essential humanitarian goods and services,” said Birendra Kumar Shrestha, general manager of the TIA. “It was indeed fortunate that the runway and other navigation equipment at the only international airport, the country’s lifeline to the outside world, were intact despite such great quake.”
Shrestha said the airport played a vital role in helping the city get back on its feet.
Currently, 48 choppers are conducting rescue operations — 13 of the Indian Air Force, 8 from the US, 7 from China, 8 from Nepal Army and 12 from Nepali private operators.
First Wave Of Quake
Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) Boeing 757 was all set to take off for Hong Kong when the earthquake hit on April 25 noon.
According to TIA, as the aircraft witnessed an unusual bump, it immediately reported to the air traffic controller: “Our aircraft is shaking by some outsider.” After a few seconds, it knew the jolt was due to the quake.
Shrestha said the air traffic control tower shook badly and the controllers got high shock. “Despite such happening, the controllers continued their jobs.” Saurya Airlines’ Bombardier CRJ200 9N-ALE was the only aircraft to land at the TIA at the time of the earthquake. Three aircraft had been waiting for clearance in the air for landing.
As the communication and navigation and surveillance system of the airport were affected by the quake, all the flights were told to hold in the air, Shrestha said.
The air traffic controllers continued to suffer from the fear of the quake and their shift was taken over by new controllers, Shrestha said.
Some tiny cracks were reported on the south side of the runway. The TIA authority said the airport was briefly closed to repair the runway and the flights were allowed to land after an hour.
“However, we were forced to close the airport for the second time until 4:00pm following the aftershock,” Shrestha said, adding at 6:00pm, a rescue flight from India landed. The TIA runway, which was designed for the DC 10 aircraft, handled a record 447 flight movements last Wednesday.
The chaotic aftermath of the Great Earthquake saw the TIA straining to handle rescue and humanitarian aid flights from different countries, including chartered flights to rescue foreign nationals.
The TIA witnessed severe air traffic congestion due to increased movement of larger jets, placing air traffic controllers under heavy pressure. Due to limited parking bays, a number of aircraft have been parked on the taxiway.
The TIA came into intense pressure when the Indian government started evacuating their people free of cost. “There was a huge crowd of people at the TIA and it was difficult to manage,” Shrestha said. “However, the police and TIA officials left no stone unturned to manage the mob. “However, it was disappointing that the crowed left 1.5 tonnes of waste on the TIA premise.”