By Prajawal Shrestha
My cousin, who has settled down in London, was here on a leave. He came from the Turkish Airlines aircraft. He shared the experience that the aircraft had to take five rounds in the Kathmandu sky while waiting its turn to land at the Trubhuwan International Airport (TIA). He, an aviation engineer, said that while taking five rounds, the aircraft consumed five tones fuel. He questioned, how much the aircraft contributed in polluting our sky from five tones fuel! Alarming!
Senior journalist Gokul Pokhrel, while returning home from Australia, boarded in the Thai International aircraft. While approaching the TIA, the aircraft was on hold for an hour. He described the arrival lounge very congested. He slipped at the toilet as the floor was wet. We can have such experiences in our only international airport. Holding the aircraft in the sky for minimum one hour has become normal practice in the TIA. The Nepal Airlines is the only authorized agency in ground handling of all the international airlines. The ground handling charge is veryhigh compared to other international airports in the region, my cousin informed.
Fare to Kathmandu is very high compared to other destinations as all the costs including aircraft holding on the sky, ground handling, landing and parking charges are also included in the air ticket. Even Indians fly to Singapore and Bangkok for holiday due to the low fare to these destinations.
Tourism is the most potential area for Nepal. There are many countries, whose economy is based on tourism. There are many natural things to see in Nepal. TIA is the only door to bring tourists by air. But the TIA management is so poor that the first impression the tourists will experience at the TIA is not that welcoming. The Nepal civil aviation authority officials are frequently visiting foreign countries. They could learn something from other international airports and implementing those learning to improve the TIA. But they never do that. There are above three dozens of government agencies deployed at the TIA. They all are there not to help the tourists but to make money by troubling the tourists. In fact, they are there to smuggle gold. Question has been raised on the security situation of the TIA after huge quantity of gold smuggled from abroad was recovered in the recent past. If those government officers can be influenced to smuggle gold, then, the international terrorist groups may smuggle arms and explosives by manipulating the very officials and security personnel!
The Nepali airlines have been banned in the EU air safety list as the Civil Aviation Authority has failed to meet the EU requisitions. The Authority has not been able to remove ban on our airlines.
Can we expect tourism promotion/development in the country having such lapses, it is a serious question. By improving the TIA management we can give more facilities to the tourists. By deploying professional, dedicated and committed government officers we can improve the TIA service. Yes, the TIA has already become congested. Also, there lacks necessary parking area for the aircrafts. The TIA expansion project is there but as the previous contractor stopped working and the civil aviation authority cancelled the previous contract, it has initiated new process to find new contractor. From which the project is going to be delayed. To complete the project early, the government should work through the fast track but as usual the government is working in a traditional manner. In this way, when the TIA expansion project is going to be completed, nobody knows.
On a temporary basis also aircraft parking area can be expanded just to resolve the present problems. The Authority has not given priority on this. In such a way, how one inefficient organ of the government can disturb on the promotion of tourism sector, the TIA authority is an example.
Yes, we know the TIA having single runway cannot contribute much in tourism promotion in the long run. We need another international airport. The government has identified and decided to construct new international airport in Nijgadh by linking Kathmandu through a fast-track road. The question is that when the government is going to start construction of this airport and when this project is going to be completed! The new international airport and fast-track road should be constructed at the war-footing level, otherwise, we will be just talking about tourism development and it will be just a sweet dream that never comes true.
To conclude, first of all, to reduce international airfare, TIA should reduce its landing and parking charge for the aircrafts, Nepal Airlines should reduce its ground handling charge and the TIA management should be efficient. Furthermore, to develop tourism sector, we need to start construction of another international airport in Nijgadh by linking Kathmandu with a fast-track road earliest as possible.