It goes without saying that enhanced air connectivity is vital for the land-locked country like Nepal to boost tourism industry. This is a major sector to contribute to the national economy. Tourism is considered as the second largest foreign exchange earner in Nepal after the remittance sent home by Nepali migrant workers working in different countries across the world. Although the country has six-plus decades’ history of tourism, the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has been the only international airport in operation. Despite being an appealing tourist destination, the country still does not have direct air connectivity even with major tourist source markets at the regional as well as international levels. More than two dozen international airlines, including Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), have been operating flights to and from Kathmandu. Owing to air traffic congestion at the TIA, even the online carriers interested in expanding their services cannot do so. At present, the TIA handles about 8 million passengers annually. The movement of passengers has been increasing by about 7.5 per cent a year.
Against this backdrop, Nepal is in dire need of more than one international airports. Two more regional international airports—Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport and Pokhara Regional International Airport—have been under construction. Once these airports come into operation, the country will definitely have better air connectivity. The authorities concerned must start promoting and marketing these important airports in order to attract more regional airlines from South and Southeast Asian nations. Many years have passed since the talk of building the Second International Airport in Nijgadh of the Bara district surfaced. But it is disheartening to note that the mega project has yet to move ahead noticeably. In 2012, South Korea’s Landmark Worldwide Company (LWC) had submitted a detailed project report (DPR) of the multi-billion dollar project to the government. The proposed airport will help increase the life of the TIA and turn Nijgadh into an aero-city with high potential to create jobs. The airport is also expected to provide direct long-haul connectivity to geographies such as North America, Europe, and Australia, enhancing Nepal’s tourism and trade opportunities, and address decentralised development focus of federalism by enabling major infrastructure outside Kathmandu.
This airport will help to develop Nepal not just as a destination but as a lucrative transit point between the east and the west. It has the potential to be the busiest airport in South Asia and one of the most technologically advanced one in the world. Realising this very fact, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai reiterated the pledge that the government would make the mega airport project come true. While speaking at a function organised by Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) in the capital the other day, Minister Bhattarai said that the government had decided to launch the construction of the airport with full awareness about its impact on the environment. Stating that the TIA would be incapable of handling the growing pressure of passengers following 2020, he added that the government was committed to undertake the project with a commitment to minimising the adverse environmental effects. As pledged by him, the government must move the project ahead immediately.