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Clarion calls to relocate airport fuel storage tanks

- Post Report, Kathmandu

In March 2015, a Turkish Airlines jet skidded off the runway and veered onto the grassy shoulder during landing at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). The Airbus A330 carrying 224 passengers came to a stop barely 100 metres from the airport fuel depot.

In March this year, A US-Bangla Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft appeared abnormally above the control tower as it made its landing approach, and crashed on the side of the runway opposite the fuel storage tanks, killing 51 of the passengers on board.

The two accidents reveal the risk posed by the vertical fuel tanks built close to the runway by Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC).

On Tuesday, the Rescue and Fire Fighting Department of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) held an interaction with journalists, rescue and security officials, and declared that the fire fighters and rescue personnel were up to par.

“We have adequate manpower and equipment for emergency preparedness and fire fighting services at TIA,” said Dayananda Chaudhary, deputy manager of Caan’s fire fighting division.

But many had no idea what would happen if an aircraft were to slam into the oil tanks which lie 250 metres from the runway on its western side.

“Even if a small plane hits one of the tanks, it will be beyond anyone’s control,” said Sanjiv Gautam, director general of Caan. “The recurring incidents at TIA have exposed the level of risk posed by the tanks. The danger is not only for TIA but the Kathmandu Valley as a whole,” Gautam said. According to Caan officials, there are walls built around the walls for their protection, but that will not help.

Gautam, however, said that they had been discussing the issue. “We have planned to build an underground storage facility at Bankali, near Pashupatinath.” He said that constructing underground fuel tanks had been included in the TIA master plan. The three vertical tanks have a capacity to store more than 7,700 kilolitres of aviation fuel.

International air passenger traffic continued to record double-digit growth in 2017, registering a 10.74 percent increase over the previous year despite infrastructural hurdles. A record 3.88 million passengers passed through TIA last year. International air passenger traffic through TIA plunged 8.37 percent to a 13-year low of 3.21 million in 2015, as travellers stayed away due to the April earthquake. However, in 2016, passenger traffic swelled 9.12 percent to 3.51 million.

According to TIA, 29 airlines including three Nepali carriers made 33,362 flights in 2017, recording a 23 percent rise.

In the domestic sector, 2017 remained yet another bumper year, as domestic airlines recorded a 39.47 percent jump in air passenger movement following the addition of new aircraft to cater to the growing number of air travellers.

Domestic airline companies flew a record 2.45 million passengers in 2017, as travellers chose to fly rather than drive over bone-jarring national highways. The number of air travellers recorded in 2017 is 693,794 more than in 2016, according to TIA.

Published: 2018-06-20 08:39:17