Resolving the ever increasing air traffic congestion at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has now become a matter for concern as the much-awaited Visit Nepal Year 2020 is approaching. The country has set an ambitious target of welcoming two million international tourists by 2020. Passengers using TIA have been fed up with air traffic jams. TIA, the only international airport in the country, is currently in operation for 17 hours a day and it handles more than 500 flights daily. The airport now remains closed from 11 pm to 6 am as the repair and maintenance of runway, taxi-way and link-road at the airport is going on. A new parking bay at the northeast side of the airport was recently constructed. With the expansion of that parking bay, TIA now can accommodate 11 aircraft. Earlier, it used to accommodate only nine. Air operators had expected that the problem of traffic congestion would be minimised, to some extent, after the completion of the parking bay expansion. But the air traffic congestion is yet to be minimised noticeably.
It is surprising that even when there are only around 50 international flights daily, the problem of aircraft holding in the air is often reported. One of the reasons is that several medium and heavy idle aircraft belonging to some air operators occupy the bay. TIA officials are blamed for failing to efficiently managing the runway and taxiway. The traffic congestion on the ground causes traffic jams in the air and vice versa. Sometimes the scheduled arrival of aircraft has to undergo a holding in the air for half an hour or even 1.5 hours. Air traffic controllers are under heavy stress when TIA sees severe air traffic congestion due to the growing movement of larger jets. Airlines suffer a huge loss when aircraft are on hold in the air due to the consumption of additional aviation fuels while passengers feel inconvenienced. More foreign international airlines have been interested in expanding their services to Nepal with the growing demand for air travel. But the nation does not have better airport infrastructure to cope with the increasing flights. The tourism industry and the aviation sector can grow side by side. They cannot thrive in isolation.
Construction of the proposed Second International Airport (SIA) has not moved ahead yet. Almost two and a half decades have passed without doing much when it comes to implementing the vital airport project. However, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) is committed to materialising the SIA in Nijgadh of Bara district. Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport and Pokhara Regional International Airport are now under construction. Once these two airports come into operation, the country’s aviation sector can heave a sigh of relief. These airports will not only help contribute to bringing in more foreign tourists but also reducing the pressure face by the TIA. Meanwhile, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Kumar Bhattarai the other day drew the attention of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) towards the problem of aircraft holding. As instructed by Minister Bhattarai, the authorities concerned must make tangible changes in this regard.