The runway at Tribhuvan International Airport is being renovated in a Rs 3.78-billion project scheduled to be completed on June 30. The 3,050-metre-long dilapidated runway will be rehabilitated as damaged pavement has frequently disrupted flights. This is the ‘most critical project’ that has been planned at the airport, authorities said.
From Monday, the runway at the country’s sole international airport will be closed for renovation for 10 hours daily from 10 pm to 8 am next day. The renovation is being done in the midst of the country’s peak tourism season, and travel traders are bracing for a major headache.
“We are aware that it’s one of the critical projects. Therefore, the contractor undertaking the rehabilitation work is being allowed on the runway after ensuring that it has twice the number of pieces of equipment needed and adequate logistics and construction materials,” said Babu Ram Poudel, chief of the project.
China’s state-owned enterprise China National Aero Technology International Engineering Corporation has been awarded the rehabilitation contract.
Congestion has been a longstanding issue at Tribhuvan International Airport which handled 7.19 million passengers last year. There were a total of 129,511 flights over the Nepali skies, 74 percent of them domestic flights. What makes the project particularly crucial is that the airport has only one runway. And even an hour’s delay on a particular day could create havoc to flight schedules.
Poudel said they had the study report of every section of the runway and its strengths. “Based on the details, the weak sections of the runway will be dug out with a milling machine and then paved with asphalt. We think we will have to dig to a depth of 20 cm.”
Airport spokesperson Pratap Babu Tiwari said that at least 15 percent of the flights would be affected by the project. “All airlines have been told to reschedule their flights, so the impact will not be great.” Airlines have made a temporary summer schedule valid for three months, and it has been approved,” said Tiwari.
Airport authorities moved to improve the runway due to extreme pressure following frequent cracks in the pavement that have raised safety concerns. For the last seven years, aircraft weighing more than 196 tonnes have been barred from Tribhuvan International Airport to prevent further damage to the runway. The old runway has been affecting smooth operation of aircraft due to repeated occurrences of cracks in the pavement.
While cracks and uneven surfaces can make take-offs and landings dangerous, airline officials said they had been facing hours-long delays almost every day during the rainy season, frustrating travellers and causing financial distress among airlines. Scores of flights have been diverted or delayed in recent years due to problems in the runway. Trouble mainly occurs during the rainy season. Last monsoon, the runway has developed cracks more than 30 times, according to airlines.
A study conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal in 2014 concluded that the runway at the country’s sole international airport was not strong enough to handle wide-body jets due to its ageing asphalt foundation, and distress is caused to the upper surface instantly when heavy planes land on it. Repeated occurrences of cracks on the runway have been affecting smooth operation of aircraft since 2011.
When compared to the core part of the runway between 2006 and 2013, damage to the intermediate layers was caused by the operation of large jets like the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777, according to the country’s aviation regulator body. In 2013, there were 1,000 operations of A330-300 aircraft, 955 of Boeing 777 and 452 of A330-200, and the numbers are expected to double in the next 20 years.
Cracks first appeared on the runway in June 2011, and they have become a recurrent problem. Cracks were reported occasionally in 2012. However, the problem worsened in 2013, forcing the regulator the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to take a harsh decision to bar aircraft weighing more than 196 tonnes from landing at the airport.
The rehabilitation project was originally planned to be implemented in 2014, but authorities put the project on hold until the construction of another international airport in Bhairahawa could be completed. A new design was prepared to review the runway status after the earthquake of April 2015. But frequent changes in government forced the project to be put on the backburner. The late tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari had decided to move the project ahead taking into account the sensitiveness of the runway’s capacity.
Tribhuvan International Airport
1949 The date heralded the formal beginning of aviation in Nepal with
the landing of a 4-seater beach-craft Bonanza aircraft of Indian ambassador at Gauchaur
1950 The first charter flight took place between Gauchaur and Calcutta in a Himalayan Aviation Dakota
1955 King Mahendra inaugurated Gauchaur Airport and renamed it Tribhuvan Airport
1957 Grassy runway converted to concrete
1964 Tribhuvan Airport renamed as Tribhuvan International Airport
1967 The 1,140 m long runway extended to 2,000 m
1967 Landing of the German Airlines Lufthansa Boeing 707
1968 Thai International starts its scheduled jet air services
1975 Tribhuvan International Airport runway extended
from 2,000 m to 3,050m
1985 Overlay work on 2,000 m of the runway was done
1995 Overlay completed on the entire runway
2011 Resurfacing of the runway and taxiway was completed
Year Aircraft movement
Year Passenger movement
2000 1.91 million
2003 1.74 million
2006 2.26 million
2009 3.40 million
2012 4.50 million
2015 4.58 million
2018 7.19 million