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Pokhara’s 4-decade-old dream within grasp

  • Pokhara Regional International Airport
- LAL PRASAD SHARMA, POKHARA

Aug 3, 2017-The four-decade-old dream of Pokhara residents to build an international airport in their city is coming closer to fruition, with the construction of the project formally beginning on Wednesday.

The construction of the regional international airport in the western Nepali city of Pokhara kicked off 16 months after the foundation stone of the project was laid.

Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev commenced the construction of the national pride project amidst a programme held at the project site on Wednesday.

“The construction of the project started after a long, arduous journey. We hope this project will prove to be a milestone in development of a prosperous nation,” the minister said, adding, “Pokhara should set an example by building the airport on time as most of the national pride projects have been moving ahead at snail’s pace.”

The proposed site of the airport in the tourist and commercial hub of the western region is located at Chinnedanda, 3 km east of Pokhara’s existing domestic airport. 

The airport is being built with concessional loan extended by China’s Export Import (Exim) Bank. The government signed a $215.96 million soft loan agreement with China in March 2016 for the construction of the international airport. 

As per the agreement, 75 percent of the loan will be provided by China Exim Bank at 2 percent annual interest. Interest will not be imposed on the remaining 25 percent of the credit. The entire loan has to be paid within 20 years, but a grace period of seven years has been offered when no principle amount and interest need to be paid. 

The project, which is being built by China CAMC Engineering, has to be completed within July 10, 2021. 

In the first year of the project construction, the contractor will complete all works related to designing. For this, the contractor has started construction of office and residential buildings. Around 110 skilled and unskilled Nepali and Chinese labourers have been mobilised to complete these basic construction works.

“Once the monsoon ends, we will start using heavy equipment to conduct various works, including leveling of the field designated for construction of runway,” said China CAMC Engineering Project Manager Gerry Yang. 

Once the airport is ready, it will have a 2,500-metre long and 45-metre wide runway, which can handle flights conducted by medium category jets like Boeing 757 and Airbus 320. It will also have international and domestic terminals, four boarding rooms and other modern facilities.

“The beauty of this project is that the contractor will have to pay a fine if it fails to complete the work within the deadline,” lawmaker and Chairman of the Parliamentary Development Committee Rabindra Adhikari said. But he expressed hope that such a harsh measure may not have to be taken as most of the pre-construction works, such as land acquisition and environmental impact assessment, have been completed.

The government had decided to build an international airport in Pokhara as early as 1975 when 3,106 ropanis of land was acquired for the project. Later another 629 ropanis of land was acquired. Most of the works related to land acquisition and compensation, except for 13 ropanis of land, have been completed.

However, the government is seeking to acquire another 50 ropanis of land to build a ring road around the airport. This issue would be finalised within August 31, according to Adhikari. Although the project’s completion is expected to expedite the pace of development in Pokhara and its vicinity, it is also likely to import problems of busy urban centres, like traffic congestion and uncontrolled migration, in a relatively clean and uncrowded city.

“So, we must focus on upgrading our roads,” said Ganesh Bahadur Bhattarai, a leading tourism entrepreneur of Pokhara. Ananda Raj Mulmi, former president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, echoed Bhattarai. “If the roads are not upgraded we won’t be able to board the planes on time or reach our destination smoothly after landing because of traffic congestion,” he said.

Also, the new airport is expected to hit paragliding business, according to Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, the aviation sector regulator. “So, appropriate measures should be taken now,” he said, adding, “Plans on generating maximum revenue from the airport should also be framed as the principle amount and interest of the loan have to be paid from the income generated from the international airport.”

The project is being build under the engineering-procurement-construction (EPC) model. Under this model, the contractor will have to bear expenses in case of cost overrun.

Published: 03-08-2017 08:25

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