The long-running multi-billion project to expand Bhairahawa airport into an international airport is expected to be completed by September 2019, officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) said, issuing yet another deadline for the completion of the national pride scheme.
“We have arrived at this new estimate by considering the amount of construction materials piled up at the project site and the number of workers mobilised,” said Sanjiv Gautam, director general of Caan. “As of now, the project has achieved 35 percent physical progress. We expect half of the tasks, or 50 percent physical progress, to be achieved by June-end,” he said.
Caan awarded the Rs6.22 billion contract to upgrade Gautam Buddha Airport into an international airport to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013. The airport was initially slated to be ready in December 2017. However, shortages of fuel and building materials due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed the upgradation works by six months, and its operation deadline was revised to June 2018.
Subsequently, a dispute over payments between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor, Northwest Infra Nepal, stalled work at the construction site for more than six months.
The project completion deadline was extended many times. The last deadline given by the project financer Asian Development Bank (ADB) to the Chinese contractor was June 2019.
The multilateral development finance institution had informed the government that it would not be able to finance the project further after its initial deadline of December 2017 in view of its slow progress. However, it said that if the contractor improves its performance until mid-March, the project’s financing could be continued.
“We have not received an official confirmation, but based on the project’s progress, it looks like the ADB is also satisfied,” said Gautam. An ADB team made a site inspection in Bhairahawa this week to review the project’s progress. “The ADB is yet to submit a report.”
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari said that the government had resolved problems faced by the project. “The construction work is moving at a faster pace,” he tweeted. “Work has been moving ahead with the target of completing the project by 2019.” The much-delayed international airport project had achieved a mere 10 percent physical progress as of 2017. As per the performance statistics, as of January, the project had achieved 31 percent physical progress.
A monthly breakdown shows that the project achieved physical progress of 0.93 percent in November and 1.24 percent in December 2017. In January, the project achieved 1.5 percent progress.
According to the project, construction of the runway (except asphalting) and international terminal building (except roofing) has been completed. As these are key components of the project, it shows that the contractor is on track to completing the project by the deadline, project officials said.
The national pride project has been envisaged to serve the fast-rising business and industrial hub of Bhairahawa and facilitate international pilgrimage tourism to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. Lumbini is 22 km from Gautam Buddha International Airport at Bhairahawa.