Paving work on runway at Bhairahawa airport starts

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Amrita Anmol, KATHMANDU/BUTWAL

Oct 31, 2018-

Work began Tuesday on laying the first asphalt layer on the new runway at Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa with the target of testing the pavement within six months.

The runway at Nepal’s second international airport in the southern Tarai plains will be 3,000 metres long and 45 metres wide. The Rs6.22-billion airport will serve as a gateway to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.

Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari and government officials gathered at the construction site, about 280 km from Kathmandu, to inaugurate the blacktopping of the new runway on Tuesday morning. The construction project, which was bogged down by controversies and delays, had achieved 55 percent progress as of October-end.

Minister Adhikari said the contractor of the project had been given six months to complete the blacktopping of the runway. “The contractor has promised to finish the task within four months,” he said. “If things go as planned, we will be able to test the new runway within six months or by March 2019. We have made much effort to complete the project in time as it was frequently bogged down by controversies and delays,” Adhikari said.  

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The government had planned to commence commercial operation of the international airport by July-August 2019 due to better-than-expected physical progress. But that does not look like happening due to delays in the implementation of the second phase of the project which involves installing Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (ANS) and Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems. Minister Adhikari told the gathering that the new airport would be ready for business by the end of 2019.

What led to the delays? The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) awarded the airport upgradation contract to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013. The airport was initially slated to be ready by December 2017. However, shortages of fuel and building materials due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed the upgradation works by six months, and its operation deadline was revised to June 2018.

Subsequently, a dispute over payments between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor, Northwest Infra Nepal, stalled works at the construction site for more than six months. As a result, the project deadline was extended many times after the initial extensions. The latest deadline given by the project financier Asian Development Bank (ADB) to the Chinese contractor is June 2019. Another delay occurred after CAAN failed to speed up the bidding process for the second package of the project.

The tender notice for the second package was published on September 20. It gave potential bidders 45 days to submit their technical and financial proposals. On October 28, CAAN extended the deadline by 20 days until November 25. The evaluation of the documents is expected to take 30 days. After the evaluation of the documents, it will take another seven days to issue the letter of intent and another 15 days to award the contract.

The project will then be handed over to the contractor who will be given at least 60 days. The factory acceptance test of the equipment and delivery will take another 30 days. After the delivery, the installation works will take 90 days, and another 30 days will be allocated to commissioning the flight test of the equipment.

“The concerned authorities will need 380 days to commercially begin the navigation and surveillance system at the airport,” said experts. As it is not technically feasible to open the airport by July-August 2019, the operation deadline has been pushed back to the end of 2019. “We are still doubtful that the airport will be ready by early 2020, given the track record of all projects implemented in Nepal,” they said.

Published: 31-10-2018 07:31

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