The government has planned to start the construction of the proposed international airport in Pokhara by mid-February keeping up the momentum of the recent ground breaking ceremony for the upgradation of Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa into a regional international airport.
The plan was revealed by Tourism Ministry Secretary Suresh Man Shrestha here on Friday. According to Shrestha, the process of signing a loan agreement with China EXIM Bank has been moving ahead smoothly.
The bank has agreed to provide a soft loan to the government to build the new airport, which has been in the works for 40 years. The proposed site at Chinnedanda lies 3 km to the east of the existing domestic airport.
“We are preparing to lay the foundation stone for the project by mid-February as the loan signing procedures is expected to be completed soon.” On January 15, the long-planned upgradation at Gautam Buddha Airport was formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. The proposed airport is expected to come online by December 2017.
The importance of the improvement plan lies in the airport’s being the front door to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha which has been rapidly gaining popularity as an international pilgrimage but suffers from poor access which has hindered further growth.
“With these two international airports in place, in addition to Tribhuvan International Airport, we can easily handle 3 million tourists annually,” Shrestha said, adding that the airport infrastructure bottleneck had been the major hindrance for Nepal to realize its vast tourism potential.
In the first week of November last year, the Finance Ministry had formally requested China EXIM Bank for a soft loan of $215.96 million to build the international airport in Pokhara. The credit request followed the Cabinet’s go-ahead on October 27 last year to construct the much-delayed project with Chinese funding.
The Finance Ministry had initially expressed reservations about the project’s cost and termed it “unrealistic”. However, it was convinced after the Tourism Ministry formed a high-level panel from the Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk which showed that the project would cost over $216 million.
On May 22, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) had awarded the construction contract to China CAMC Engineering.
The airport will be built under the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) model. The EPC contract binds the contractor to deliver the project at a stipulated time at the predetermined price regardless of any increase in costs that the contractor may incur after the contract is signed.
Caan had invited bids for the project on February 9, 2012. The airport project has been on hold since July 2012 after the lowest bidder China CAMC quoted a price of $305 million, which is 85 percent higher than the government’s estimate. The government had expected the project to cost around $166 million.
Subsequently, in January 2013, China CAMC wrote to the Tourism Ministry expressing its willingness to build the project at the government-estimated cost.
In 1975, the government had acquired more than 3,106 ropanis of land for the planned airport. As per the feasibility report, the airport will accommodate medium category jets like the Boeing 757 and the Airbus 320.