Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ inaugurated the Pokhara International Airport on Sunday. Along with Tribhuvan International Airport, Nepal has three international airports, in Bhairahawa and now in Pokhara. But they may not be enough, as there is still a need of an airport in Western Nepal to facilitate the people of the West, while an airport may also be beneficial for Eastern Nepal. Biratnagar's airport, which is comparatively larger, could also be upgraded. However, the important aspect is the collection of funds to build one. Air travel should be the first choice of transportation in a mountainous country like Nepal, but this has not been possible yet.
The airlines providing service to regional airports are not getting enough passengers. In recent days, motor roads have reached most parts of the country. Even though it consumes more time to reach their destination, people prefer transportation by road as they are cost effective. As a result, many operational air services have been reduced in most hilly areas. Similarly, most of the airports in Tarai have been closed. Only mountain flights in the Himalayan region and international flights are in operation.
The passengers who travel frequently by air are members of the upper class: businessmen, high-level politicians, and employees who travel on paid expenses. People have stopped traveling by air as they can travel anywhere in Nepal by road. We can assume that recently inaugurated Pokhara International Airport will not be able to generate much income as it is still not confirmed whether foreign flights will be conducted or not from the airport. Pokhara can be reached by a four to five hour bus ride from the capital, which makes road travel an ordinary choice for travelers.
The cost of land acquisition with added billions of loans amount the the cost of an airport to trillions, which cannot be raised with domestic flights carrying limited tourist travelers. This should be taken into consideration while expanding other airports. The construction of Nijgarh Airport has been a topic of discussion for a long time. At the inauguration ceremony of Pokhara International Airport, the Prime Minister announced, Nijgarh Aiport being on the priority of government. The building cost of the airport is very high. Also, the contractor has taken his hand off the project. On the other hand, environmentalists are debating on the negative effects that will be imposed on environment by construction of the airport.
It is necessary to re-evaluate, whether or not to proceed with the construction of the airport in Nijgarh. We can look at the Banepa-Bardiwas motorway constructed under the support of Japanese government, as an successful project. Environmental damage was not encountered during its construction if compared to other road tracks. It was not demolished from top to bottom, which resulted on minimization of possible landslides and environment saw little to no damage. Therefore, it is mandatory to look into the necessity of a project, cost of construction, debt load and maximum output of any development project backed by the government.
Translation: Pratikshya Khanal