Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) will remain open 21 hours a day from Monday as it extends its opening hours by 2 hours 30 minutes due to a sharp growth in air passenger traffic, airport authorities said.
Severe congestion plagues the country’s sole international gateway which currently operates for 18 hours 30 minutes in three shifts daily.
“We are all ready to remain open for 21 hours a day. The new schedule will be formally inaugurated on Monday,” said Raj Kumar Chettri, general manager of TIA. “Each shift will be lengthened by 1 hour.”
The board of directors of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal is expected to approve an incentive plan for air traffic controllers (ATCs) and other staff on Sunday as compensation for the increased workload.
Chettri said that eight more ATCs had been employed at TIA. “There are now 72 ATCs working in three shifts, and we have planned to hire more in the coming days.” The customs office, police and other security agencies have agreed to the extended opening hours of the airport, he said.
From Monday, TIA will also use a separate exit system. Arriving passengers will leave the airport through the new route or from the newly constructed vehicle parking area which is near the Ring Road.
“However, it will take time for the new vehicle parking area to come into operation.” Chettri said that a few airlines had expressed interest in obtaining night slots as they think it is a better option than holding for hours in the skies before landing during the daytime.
Qatar Airways has decided to operate one of its flights at 1 am. “We are expecting more airlines to come during the lean hours, while all the new airlines will be issued slots after 12 midnight.”
Traffic congestion is also severe on the ground due to a limited number of parking bays. Experts said that TIA had turned into a ‘roll and hold’ airport as its existing infrastructure has not been able to cope with the rising travel demand.
However, TIA is not expected to see visible change in terms of reducing traffic congestion even after operating the airport for an additional 2 hours 30 minutes daily as the summer schedule of all airlines has already been approved. But it will definitely help during the next peak tourist season which starts in September, according to airport officials.
Most international flights operate between 1 and 5 pm, the peak travel time, resulting in chaos for airlines and ATCs. Nearly 70 percent of the international traffic is concentrated during the peak time. Traffic is thin in the mornings till 12 noon and from 6 to 9 pm.
During the tourist season, March-May and September-November, TIA handles more than 500 flights daily, 75 percent of them domestic flights. The sole reason behind the congestion at TIA during the tourist season is Lukla flights. And if a flight to Lukla, the gateway to Everest, is disrupted on any particular day due to weather, its rescheduling will create a cascade effect on all flights.
The extended opening hours is a milestone in TIA’s history which opened in 1949 when a single-engine aircraft landed for the first time on its grass runway, formally marking the start of aviation in Nepal.Published: 2018-05-21 08:26:26