In nearly three decades, Nepal is finally constructing the second international Airport by 2018. Following the invitation by the Civil Aviation Authority, a Chinese contractor will come to Nepal to give a bank guarantee.
Nepal’s southern neighbor does not prefer a Chinese contractor in its vicinity and the process was delayed due to this reason. Given the warming up of the relations between the two giants, there seems to be some change in the horizon regarding Nepal’s position vis-à-vis the project.
If planned to go as usual, Nepal will have three international airports within very short nautical miles. As the construction process of Gautam Buddha International Airport is at the final stage, this will give an alternative airport, close to Kathmandu’s International Airport.
Although Nepal has proposed two other international airports at Nijgadh and Pokhara in the proximity of Tribhuwan International Airport, their construction process is yet to begin.
After the scrutiny, China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group has bagged the contract to upgrade Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa into a regional international airport.
During the final review of the financial documents by the Asian Development Bank, the company emerged as the lowest bidder. According to reports, Northwest had quoted a price tag of Rs 5.50 billion, which is Rs 897.35 million less than the price quoted by the second lowest bidder. The aggregate cost of the project as set by its executing agency, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) is Rs 6.30 billion.
With the runway of 3000 meters, the airport will have the capacity of serving 760,000 passengers annually after the completion of its first phase.
The contractor will construct a new runway, exit and parallel taxiways with flexible pavements, new international aircraft parking apron with rigid pavements. The contractor will also rehabilitate the existing runway for conversion into parallel taxiway, drainage system parallel to the runway, taxiway and diversion of the Ghaghara Khola and airport boundary.
China Harbour Engineering Company and a Nepali-Spanish joint venture Sanjose-Kalika were the second and third lowest bidders, quoting Rs 6.40 billion and Rs. 6.68 billion respectively.
Likewise, the other short listed firms are China Overseas Engineering Group, China’s Sino Hydro Corporation and Spain’s Isolux-Corsan which had quoted Rs 6.77 billion, Rs 7.20 billion and Rs 7.21 billion respectively.
CAAN received seven confirmed bids from among the 37 firms that obtained bid documents. “We have notified the lowest bidder China’s northwest to be present within 28 days with a bank guarantee to sign a project contract agreement,” said Murari Bhandari, chief of the project.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority, considering the contract agreement and the company’s mobilization period, the construction work is likely to begin by the end of December. The airport will be operational by early 2018,” said Bhandari.
The airport in Bhairahawa which is being upgraded into a regional international airport is the gateway to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. Of the total project cost, ADB will provide $ 58.50 million ($ 42.75 in loans and $ 15.75 million in grants), the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) will give $ 15 million loan and CAAN will bear the rest as counterpart funding.
In the second phase which will commence after 10 years, the airport is projected to handle up to 2 million passengers. After the airport is complete, it will be able to handle up to 6 million passengers annually.
The airport will have six international parking bays. The airport has been touted as one of the most viable projects due to its potential to draw a large number of Buddhist pilgrims to Lumbini. It will also serve as an alternative to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) which is under strain due to heavy traffic.
Although the project seems to be heading towards the construction phase, only time will show how comfortably a Chinese company is allowed to work in the sensitive border region.