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TIA officials worried by frequent runway damage

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Oct 19, 2017-Officials at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) are worried by frequent runway damage even though the monsoon has ended. On Wednesday, Nepal’s sole international airport was closed for 20 minutes as cracks appeared on the runway. Such problems mainly occur during the rainy season.

“Nowadays, the runway crumbles at places even through the monsoon is over,” said an engineer at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan). “This is because the runway was not designed to handle such a large number of aircraft landings,” said the engineer who did not want to be named. 

He added that it was difficult to predict how long the runway would last, but that it had a “very short life”. The country’s five-decade-old runway that used to handle around 300 landings and take-offs daily during the peak travel season (September-November) until a few years ago, now handles more than 500 flights daily.  

The Tourism Ministry has been holding discussions to find a solution so that congestion and runway damage do not hit the country’s travel and tourism industry.

TIA Runway Project

A $28-million rehabilitation project to improve the 3,050-metre runway at TIA, which has been on hold since March, is expected to start moving again. According to a Tourism Ministry official, Tourism Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev said at an emergency meeting held on Wednesday that he was taking the runway issue seriously. Minister Dev promised to sort out the issues hindering the project within a couple of days. 

Last March, the project prequalified four firms following the completion of their technical evaluation. The prequalified companies are China National Aero Technology International Engineering Corporation, China Harbor Engineering, Beijing Changdao Municipal Engineering Group and a Nepali-Chinese JV consisting of China Railway No 5 Engineering Group and Swachchhanda Nirman Sewa. 

However, the project has been bogged down by problems. The project initiated the move to invite prequalified bidders to submit financial proposals. For this, the project needed approval from the Caan board.  “However, the proposals were not sent to the board,” said a Tourism Ministry. The project had planned to award the construction contract in September.  For the last five years, TIA has been forbidding aircraft weighing more than 196 tonnes to land on its tattered runway to prevent further damage. The old runway has been affecting smooth operation of aircraft due to repeated occurrences of cracks in the pavement. 

According to the project, milling machines will be used to remove the pavement to rehabilitate the runway. The design was prepared in 2014, but the project decided to review it after the earthquake of April 2015. 

According to TIA, the airport will have to be shut down from 12 midnight to 6 am daily to carry out the runway rehabilitation works.

The project said that the contractor would be given a year’s time to make preparations. The company will be required to have all its logistics in place before it is allowed on the runway. 

According to officials, extensive planning is needed because there are many reasons that could lead to delays. The contractor should have twice the amount of materials and equipment required. Considering all these requirements and preparations, on-ground work has been targeted to begin after the monsoon in 2018.

Caan will dip into the Airport Development Fund (ADF) to finance the project. Since July 2014, Caan has been collecting an extra Rs1,000 in airport development tax from each passenger departing on international flights from TIA. The money will be spent on projects to improve facilities at TIA. A study conducted by Caan in 2014 had concluded that the runway at TIA was not strong enough to handle wide body jets due to its ageing asphalt foundation, and distress is caused to the upper surface instantly when heavy planes land on it. Repeated occurrences of cracks on the runway have been affecting smooth operation of aircraft since 2011. 

Published: 19-10-2017 10:14

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