Nepal seeks India’s help to conduct flight test at Bhairahawa
Nepal has asked India for help to conduct flight inspection of the newly installed navigation and communication infrastructure at Bhairahawa international airport as the original contractor has been staying away amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, told the Post that they had formally written to the Airport Authority of India for flight calibration or flight test through a government-to-government deal after receiving the nod during informal discussions.
Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa in south central Nepal is at the final stages of completion, and is slated to be ready for commercial operation by the beginning of 2022.
“A formal request letter in this regard has been dispatched to the Tourism Ministry, which will be forwarded through the Foreign Ministry to the Indian government,” an official at the civil aviation regulator said.
On March 7, 2019, a Thai government-owned company Aeronautical Radio of Thailand won the $4.83 million contract for the second package with a completion deadline of 2019-end.
The second package includes supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of Communication, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management, including meteorological equipment and other related services.
Work stopped after the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020. Despite the lockdowns enforced on different occasions, installation of the equipment has been completed.
The Thai company has informed the airport project that they can begin the calibration of the equipment only after the Covid-19 situation in Nepal improves.
That does not seem likely anytime soon as the number of daily infections has been rising following a relaxation of the prohibitory orders.
Nepal on Wednesday reported 4,107 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours taking the nationwide infection tally to 705,072.
Public health experts, epidemiologists, virologists and officials of the Ministry of Health and Population have warned that a third wave of the pandemic is inevitable.
“There is still no word from the Thai company, and since it looks like the project may be delayed significantly if we wait for its response, we decided to go for other options,” project officials said.
The airport project had approached the South Korean and Indian governments and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States to conduct the tests, but only the southern neighbour responded positively.
The FAA, an agency of the US government responsible for the regulation of aircraft and airports, had conducted flight inspections of the radar system at Bhatte Danda in Lalitpur in 2017.
A technical test or calibration needs to be done with a special aircraft at an altitude of 43,000 feet. Tests need to be conducted for each route.
Under the proposal, the Airport Authority of India will not only do the flight test of Bhairahawa airport but also the test of navigation and communication equipment at Kathmandu, Nepalgunj, Simra and Biratnagar airports, which needs to be done annually.
“If the government-to-government deal is signed, the testing of the equipment will begin after the monsoon or before the Dashain festival in mid-October,” said the official.
Pokhrel said that if the calibration of the navigation and communication equipment is completed in September or October, it will take another three months to bring the airport into operation by publishing the air routes in the Aeronautical Information Publication.
The Aeronautical Information Publication is published by the state or by an entity authorised by the state.
The Bhairahawa international airport project has earned a place among the list of longest running construction projects in the country after coming to a halt on various occasions, the last time due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Construction started in 2013, and was expected to be completed in 2017. But the project encountered multiple hurdles which pushed back the completion deadline several times. The latest completion target had been set for December 2019—in time for the Visit Nepal 2020 tourism campaign.
The international airport, which will be Nepal’s second after Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, is now expected to open in early 2022.
It will have a 3,000-metre-long and 45-metre-wide runway, and be the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had awarded the Rs6.22 billion civil works component, the first package, to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013.