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Wide-body aircrafts barred from Kathmandu airport due to unsafe runway
Publication Date : 20-08-2013
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) on Monday confirmed that it has asked all international airlines to find alternatives to their wide-body aircrafts flying into the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu, due to safety concerns over the use of its 46-year-old runway.
It was not made clear how long the ban would be in place, but is currently expected to affect all major airlines using wide-body aircrafts between September and November this year.
TIA general manager Dinesh Prasad Shrestha said that CAAN has given the airlines a months' notice to make their respective arrangements so that travel bookings would not be affected.
The months of October and November are peak months, when thousands of Nepalis working abroad fly home for the Dashain and Tihar festivals.
The announcement was made after cracks started to appear on the TIA runway, which has caused a number of international flights to be delayed, diverted or cancelled in the past few weeks. CAAN said that a Spanish company has been acquired to study the runway capacity, and is scheduled to submit its report within the next few weeks.
Repair of the runway will be done based on the report, and until then, the runway will remain closed to all wide-body aircrafts, Shrestha said.
The cracks on the runway first appeared in June 2011 and has since become a perennial problem.
According to sources, its initial overlay work was substandard. The 3,048-metre long runway was only repaired in 2010 at a cost of 260 million Nepali rupees (US$2.6 million). Since then, cracks during every monsoon season.
CAAN, which acts as a regulatory body and service provider, said that the wide-body aircraft ban was imposed based on the runway's old age, aircraft load and the condition of the drainage system at the airport.
Travel agents say that the ban will adversely affect Nepal's tourism, movement of remittance-earning migrant workers and the country's global image.
"It is such a big blow to Nepal's tourism, as the industry depends largely on air connectivity," said Zenith Travels group managing director Joy Dewan.
As a narrow-body aircraft can only accomodate less than 250 passengers, international airlines will find it difficult to cater to all their passengers during the peak season. The main airline companies that are affected are Malaysia-Air Asia, Bangkok-based Thai Airways and Korea-based Korean Air that always fly wide-body aircrafts to Kathmandu.
Middle-East carriers like Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airways and Air Arabia that account for 39 percent of Nepal’s total inbound and outbound traveller movement will also suffer.
“As the move is to ensure safety, we expect that the ban will not continue for long as it will have multiple effects on Nepal’s tourism industry,” said Bharat Kumar Shrestha, chairman of the Airlines Operating Committee Nepal.
However, he said, CAAN has not officially communicated the ban to the various airlines. Officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation said that failure to accomodate wide-body aircrafts will lead to a negative impact on the TIA's international standards.
Other sources revealed that the ban was a cover-up for irregularities found in the overlay work on the TIA runway.
"The tourism and civil aviation minister was not present at the press briefing on Monday, while the secretary also left the briefing halfway,” the sources said, adding that none of the senior government officials wanted to comment on the issue, which is under investigation by Nepal's Commission of Investigation of Abuse of Authority.
They said that the cracks had appeared on the runway four times in 2011, and five times up to August 19 this year. Many of the cracks are a result of sharp turns made by the aircrafts.
Currently hi-seal emulsion is being used to carry out emergency repairs.