The Kathmandu Post, Sangam Prasain, 19th April 2017, Kathmandu
Hello, this is your captain speaking. Due to air traffic movement at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), we will be spending an extra 30 minutes in the air. We will keep you informed. Enjoy the flight.”
This has become a common announcement on aircraft flying into Kathmandu, and passengers never know when they will be able to land.
This is because there are queues of aircraft circling the skies waiting to land. If it’s only air traffic, 30 minutes on hold is normal, but if the weather suddenly deteriorates, another 30 minutes are added, said an air traffic controller.
Arpan Dangi Nepali, a traveller expressed his frustration on his Facebook page on January 23, “Flight delayed, 3 hr in TIA, frustration, anger...”
Another traveller Nishchal Dhakal? tweeted to @AirBuddha on March 24: “I’m stuck at TIA for one hr delay in my flight. How do I kill some time in this crowded place?” The social media is often filled with posts by frustrated travellers.
Nepal’s sole international airport has been strained to capacity due to infrastructure bottlenecks and the airport authority’s incapability to manage flights. Experts say that Nepal’s sole international airport has turned into a ‘roll and hold’ facility.
Nepal’s crowded skies saw the first wave of consolidation as many airlines inducted new aircraft into their fleets that was followed by a rapid increase in the number of air travellers. “It’s challenging to handle flights particularly during the peak tourist season,” a traffic controller said. “It has become a matter of safety now.”
Has the airport become saturated? Yes, said Devananda Upadhyaya, general manager of TIA. “We are handling more than 420 flight movements (100 flights by foreign carriers) daily right now, double the movements recorded five years ago.” Traffic congestion has occurred due to a parking bay crunch, he said.
The increase in the number of domestic planes, coupled with more foreign flights, has put immense pressure on aviation infrastructure, he said. “In fact, the aviation infrastructure has not kept pace the growth of airlines, and it is not well equipped.”
There are 20 domestic airlines and 28 international airlines using the country’s sole international airport. He said that the international terminal was designed to process 1,340 passengers per hour, but it has been handling 2,700 passengers currently.
There are more than 12,000 people working at TIA in three shifts.
Nepal’s domestic air passenger movement jumped 28.85 percent to a record 1.75 million in 2016, as travellers chose to fly rather than drive over bone-jarring national highways. Domestic carriers received 393,548 more flyers last year.
The boost in passenger demand prompted nearly all airlines to place orders for new aircraft, unconcerned by the fact that they don’t have any space to park them. They will be adding close to 15 aircraft this year to expand operations. Interestingly, domestic airlines are inducting relatively bigger aircraft.
A like number of large jets are set to join the fleets of Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines.
As construction of international airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa will take some time, airline expansion plans are likely to create much pressure on TIA.
On Tuesday, TIA announced an ambitious plan to construct at least eight aerobridges after expanding the international terminal vertically and horizontally to ease congestion. “We will be completing the estimate and design of the project this fiscal year and implement it by the next fiscal year,” said Upadhyaya. “If the aerobridges are constructed, it will significantly ease congestion at TIA.”
Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Dilnath Giri issued a 14-point declaration on Tuesday directing the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to immediately begin the process to construct a domestic airport in Kavre. The plan to construct an airport in Thulichour, Kavre was launched in 2012. He also directed the authority to build a new helipad on the southern part of the runway and use the existing helipad to park domestic planes.
Giri has directed TIA to hire at least 50 young people who are fluent in English and capable of leadership to help foreign tourists. “TIA does not meet any international standard. When I reached the airport today, I saw everything was intact. But in reality, the airport authority had been fooling me,” he told a press meet at TIA. “Some improvements have been made, but the place is still a mess.”