Airport saga

  • Govt needs to assure people that its disaster plan for the TIA will work

Mar 10, 2015-

Two days ago, a Nepali photojournalist tweeted a picture of a newspaper clip, whose headline read: ‘Three airplanes circling above the city of Raxaul causes panic.’ Apparently, the aircraft were circling right above the Indian Oil depot in the Indian town—near the Nepal-India border—from 7 to 10 pm on Sunday night. A worried depot manager immediately informed the Sashastra Seema Bal about it which then increased its patrolling in the area. As it turned out, the aircraft were waiting for their turn to land at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). This, however, must be the lone humorous incident related to the four-day closure of Nepal’s only international airport, caused after a Turkish Airlines plane skidded off the runway while landing last Wednesday.

To make up for the backlog, the TIA was opened round the clock since Saturday evening. Yet, the sheer levels of mismanagement at the airport—lack of trolleys, over four hours of delay in getting one’s luggage, lack of restrooms for those waiting outside the airport and, most importantly, unavailability of information about the flights—caused great troubles for over 50,000 passengers. Nepali migrant workers leaving for Gulf countries and Malaysia suffered even more in lack of money to prolong their stay in Kathmandu. The state of affairs showed the TIA’s incapacity to handle such a crisis, with 120 take-offs and landing in one day—twice the number it manages on normal days.  

The TIA’s troubles, however, do not end there.

It has limited room for growth owing to Valley topography and final approach. It is also not possible to build a parallel runway here, which could help avert mishaps like the Turkish plane standoff. Building a second international airport in Nijgadh, Bara, therefore, is the only viable long-term solution. Towards that end, the government should speed up the process of land acquisition in Bara and prioritise construction of the airport. As the former director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Rajesh Raj Dali, said on these pages on Monday, the repercussions of constructing a few kilometres of runway are far more than building a few kilometres of road. The airport in Bara would not only be an excellent exercise in decentralisation but also stimulate the district’s economy.

As for the TIA, it must be upgraded by using state-of-the-art technology to process, inform and facilitate travelling for passengers. Meanwhile, the government must also assure people on how it plans to implement its ‘Tribhuvan International Airport Disaster Response Plan’ when one airplane was all that it took to close the airport for four long days. The case of Haiti, whose only international airport suffered tremendous damage in the 2010 earthquake, should serve as a lesson. Investing in more STOL aircraft to aid disaster relief, search and rescue operations could be an option for now.

Published: 11-03-2015 06:31

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