Nepali Times
Economic takeoff


There is an apocryphal joke about an Indian minister of infrastructure who invited his Nepali counterpart to his villa in Gurgaon. The Nepali minister was puzzled, and asked: "How can you afford a mansion like this?"

The Indian minister took the Nepali minister to the window, and said: "See that highway? Ten percent."

Five years later, the Nepali minister invited his Indian counterpart to an official visit to Nepal and took him to his villa in Pokhara. The Indian minister was impressed, and asked how he could afford such a huge palace. The Nepali minister took the Indian minister to the window and said see that airport? "No," replied the Indian minister. "Exactly," replied the Nepali minister, "100 per cent."

All we can do, presumably, is laugh about the new Pokhara airport. In 1976, the government acquired 500 hectares of land to build a new airport to serve what was then a small town. The old airport was built for DC-3s, and was unsuitable for larger aircrafts.

Thirty-six years later, Pokhara's population has grown ten fold, tourist arrivals last year hit 200,000, there are 40 tourist buses plying between Kathmandu and Pokhara every day, the land for the airport is still there, but there is no airport. Finally, there is movement.

The Chinese Exim Bank has reportedly said it is willing to offer a soft loan to support the entire $305 million project, but only Chinese firms are allowed to bid under the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) formula. Now, the four unions affiliated with the four main political forces in the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) say the project is too expensive. They seem determined to put a spanner in the works.

The Chinese bid is reportedly for a 3,000m runway with parallel taxiway, two terminals, a hangar, cargo terminal, radar and air traffic control equipment. If built, Pokhara airport with its air-bridges would be more modern than Kathmandu's antiquated, corrupt and urine-reeking airport. Which is why we also see nothing wrong with handing over the management of Kathmandu airport to whichever international private company is foolish enough to take over it.

The party-affiliated unions opposing the new Pokhara airport suspect someone is making big bucks out of this deal, and they want their share. This is the same reason why Nepal Airlines lost the offer of two heavily discounted Airbuses last year because members of a parliamentary committee weren't in on the deal. Also the reason why the Upper Trisuli project last week had its license revoked on the day that the agreement was supposed to be signed in Canada because someone high up didn't get his (or her) kickback.

Pokhara Airport is an ideal second international airport because it can be finished in two-and-half years from go-ahead, it can be the catalyst for growth for the whole central Nepal, overseas workers can fly off from Pokhara itself and take the pressure off the capital, and it can be the diversion airport for airlines which are losing millions to frequent closures at Kathmandu airport due to poor visibility. It can be the perfect stop-gap before another more ambitious airport is built in Nijgad or Bhairawa. It's not just Pokhara that needs a new airport, the whole country needs one.

Nepali officialdom has the worst combination of stupidity and greed. If they were at least smart and corrupt (like the Indian minister in the joke) they'd take their cut, let the economy grow so their pie would get bigger, as would their share. Here in Nepal, we extract from the pie until there isn't a pie anymore. The culture that is taking this country down is that if a rival has something, I want it. And if I can't get it, I'll make it impossible for you to have it either, the country be damned.

Read also:
Politics as usual has stalled hopes of any real progress in Pokhara's new international airport

1. anonymous
As clearly shown about tragic situation-full of corruption and poor management, nothing more is left for Nepalese people but TIA, the only airport to cease. But the corrupt officers who only insist on filling their sacks are blind on Nepalese economy to t,

2. Sunil Pradhan
What is the use of talking and writing only, about corruption and how corrupted the Nepalis leaders and the bureaucracy is. Arrest Pushpa Dahal for his crimes and start treating him like a criminal, that he is. You will notice a change in the political circle immediately. Everyone knows that Dahal is a criminal, so this will justified. If you really want to solve the problems of Nepal, then 15 to 20 Netas should be jailed today. If you cannot do this, then you should shut up. Dahal is the problem for Nepal, he is not the solution. So goes for other Netas. Come on, people wake up and assert your rights. As my Idol Bob Marley sang, get up, stand up, stand up for your rights, maan.   

3. Akashj Grg
Wake up, do you think the pristine Pokhara Valley is the place for an international airport???
People visit Pokhara for the quiet tranquil environment, not to have huge Airbuses screaming down the tarmac every 5 mins.
Smell the coffee and build the second airport in the Terai in the Narayangat to Bhairahawa corridor, and leave Pokhara for the tourists, the present domestic terminal serves them well enough.

4. Sanji
Akashj gurung: if you got no idea what you talking about
Best way is don't get involved.. There is an emergency need for 
International airport at pokhara which is too essential ..which is not my
Word buddy.. That"s after long survey and decision made
After the meeting of intelligence..

5. Anita Khadka
This is ridiculous, but does not surprise me one bit. what were we expecting? a new international airport to be built peacefully without any political interference? that will never happen, everyone is clamouring for the biggest chunk of the pie and who cares about development or the economy. It's really sad. And what is worse is that unlike in other countries where there is corruption, but there is also development. Like the editorial says I think Nepalis wouldn't mind even if politicians were pocketing kickbacks as long as things happened and the country moved ahead. But here lots of corruption and no brain. 

6. Akashj Grg
Sanji ji,
You say I quote '
That"s after long survey and decision made
After the meeting of intelligence'
But where was the public debate in this, who made the decision and what exactly was this 'meeting of intelligence'??
I still say that Nepal's second international airport needs to located along the east-west highway to better serve larger population centres to the far west.
What about in the valley at Tulsipur?
How are people from the far west going to access Pokhara to fly overseas, up the rickety and very dangerous Butwal, Tansen, Pokhara road?

7. ST
Pokhara may or may not be the ideal location for an international airport. But I think we are all missing the point of this editorial- our politicians and bureaucrats are greedy half-wits, who wouldn't take any opportunity for the economic improvement of our country as long as there is nothing, monetarily, of course, in it for them. If they really cared, even an iota, about Nepal's growth and development, it wouldn't be very difficult to improve Pokhara airport and build others in the Terai, get hydro projects moving, etc, etc. International interest and money has always been there. It is national barriers that we face. As it is clearly pointed out here, India has it's own share or corrupt ministers but it is 10% they take, not everything away from projects, which could change the lives of millions. There is greed and there is stupid, blind greed at the cost of a nation. That unfortunately seems to be the motto in Nepal. 

8. Sujeet_Grg
Akashj Grg, I totally disagree with your point of building international airport at Tulsipur because:

1) It will take a long time and money for all the survey that has to be taken before building international airport at Tulsipur.

2) Pokhara international airport was surveyed by the government and Japan International Cooperation Agency in 1989. 

3) In December 2009 CAAN has invested Rs 1 million for an engineering survey and a detailed design of the airport and to level the ground"(kathmandu post). 

4) Having said that you won't get these opportunity of 305 mill soft loan from China every day.  They may not be willing to give loans for Tulsipur so where are you going to get the money? The locals in Pokhara are willing to sell the current Pokhara airport land to pay off the debts anytime.

5) Pokhara airport is the 2nd most profitable and busiest airport after TIA in Nepal which means that there is a demand and urgency.  It has the capability to generate more income in future and pay off its debts. 

6) People from far west don't fly much as compared to people in Pokhara.  Tourism in Pokhara in increasing every year.  Hence the probability of losing the money after building an airport in Tulsipur is very high. 

7) If you observe the tourist industry in the world market then you will  notice that every successful tourist destinations has got international airport to make it convenient for the travellers. 

8) Lets talk about the population. The population of pokhara alone in 250,000 (not including nearby towns and cities and tourists that visit every year). Pokhara is among the least poverty rate cities in the country. Where as western Nepal has the highest poverty rate. Even though the Western Nepal enough population we need people who are able to pay for the facilities of International airport in oder to have a healthy growing economy. 

9)The point over here is urgency. If the people in Butwal, Tansen can pay for the international fee then they can pay for the domestic flights to Pkr or Ktm as well. It takes less than an hour and they don't have to worry about spending a night in a Hotel in Tulsipur.

10) Another thing to notice is that Airport is located outside the main pokhara city. Its located in the pokhara- kathmandu highway. It is going to be a Regional International Airport and where as the 2nd international airport will be built by a Korean company in Bara, Nepal! 

Conclusion: I would say building a Regional International airport in Pokhara is a wise idea and we should not delay this opportunity.  It is good for you good for me and good for the development of the whole healthy Nepalese Economy. 

9. Krishna S.
Agreed, one hundred percent!

Finally, A sensible article in the editorial.

Have your stupid ten percent. But do something!

10. 7
We nepalis get so distracted from the focal point that it reaches to a point of being funny. The article is not 'anywhere near' about where the port should be built. It should be built where travelers frequent the most. And let's not get into the debate of destination A witnesses a large number of foreigners, so it should be built there. End of topic. I've seen on so many accounts where the public are in fact not in favour of foreign orgs managing our airports. What gives? Development has been going backwards in terms of every facet. Let others provide better services for us. I don't wanna leave home relieved and come back grieving, because of our airport's condition.     

11. Anupam
Nijgarh's implementation is intrinsically linked to two uncertainties (a) lack of  interest on the part of the government and (b) the so called "fast track" access from Kathmandu. How quickly can one travel, is the main question. Hope it does not end being "fast track" in name alone (that is what it will end being) with all types of vehicles plying on it.
Pokhra would be helpful, to the extent, taking some direct international traffic and also as an alternate destination at times flights are diverted from TIA.   

12. Anonymous2

What is the make-up of the protests? Businessmen and tourism entrepreneurs are involved. Who else is involved? If it is a cross-section of Pokhara Society protesting for an international airport, then this is a hopeful sign. The Pokharelis should demand local elections next.They should also demand the right to decide on updating their airports themselves, however they want, whenever they want. Government in Kathmandu should focus in security and that's it. Every other form of management should be decided by the city that the airport belongs to. You want to see alternatives to the politics of identity? The politics of the collective good is it.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)