Tularam Pandey & Harihar Singh Rathore
ANN/THE KATHMANDU POST – Kotwada Airport in Kalikot is finally readying for operations, 37 years after it was built. The runway of the airport located in the mountains of western Nepal was blacktopped recently, raising hopes of locals.
In 2016, Tara Air had conducted a test flight, but no passenger services have been operated since. Local resident Nara Bahadur Bista worked as a labourer at the construction site when he was 33 years old. Bista, now 75, says, “I also worked as a volunteer for a month at the airport.”
Bista is happy that the airport’s runway has been blacktopped. “I am hopeful that flights will start soon.”
The airport would have been a lifesaver for the people of Kalikot if it had been put into service when there were no roads linking the district. Now roads have reached the villages.
“But the airport is still important because the road gets blocked frequently,” Bista said.
The company that received the contract for the blacktopping work handed over the airport to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal on January 29.
Structures like terminal tower, security building, toilets and parking space have been completed.
Technician Kedar KC, who was involved in the airport’s construction, said that improvement work was being done on the water supply, electricity and runway.
“All the contract work will be completed by mid-February,” he said. “Regular flight operations can be done from that date,” he said.
Gauri-Parbati Shyam and Shankar JV were awarded the contract for the blacktopping of the 690-metre runway at a cost of NPR138.6 million.
According to the airport office, a sum of NPR150.14 million has been spent.
The Civil Aviation Authority claims that the runway at Kotwada Airport is longer and wider than at Mugu, Dolpa and Humla in Karnali. Aircraft can land and take off from either end of the runway.
“Kotwada Airport will make it convenient for the residents of Narharinath, Raskot, Sannitriveni, Pachaljharna, Palata, Khadachakra and Ramarosan in Achham,” said Principal Ratna Singh Saud of Nandadevi Higher Secondary School, Kotwada.
Chief of Narharinath Rural Municipality Nagendra Bahadur Bista said locals of Narharinath had been dreaming of the airport for years. “The runway has been blacktopped, and now there is a need to take steps for regular flights,” he said.
“Now it will be easy for tourists to visit Ramaroesan, Triveni Patan and Badimalika in Achham,” he added. It will also help in providing access to health care.
Chaurjahari Airport in Rukum West, which has been out of commission for the past eight years, has been upgraded. The runway has been expanded. Flight services were operating until the airport’s runway was blacktopped.
Local resident Gopal Sharma, who is also a former finance minister of Karnali province, said the airport was being expanded to accommodate 72-seater planes. He said that the upgradation of the airport would support tourism development in Dolpa, Jumla and Jajarkot.
According to him, the Ministry of Finance has allocated a budget of NPR90 million for a detailed project report and distribution of compensation for the land to be acquired for the project’s expansion.
Chaurjahari Airport was blacktopped in August 2015 at a cost of NPR50.59 million. But there have been no flights since then.
Nepal Airlines has stopped flying to Chaurjahari as it is short of planes. But airline officials say flights were suspended for lack of passengers.
It has been six years since Nepal Airlines shut down its office in Chaurjahari. Locals worry that the airport will never come into operation again.
“Nepal Airlines has closed its office,” said Jhup Bahadur Budha, a local. “There is no hope that Nepal Airlines will resume operations.”
The air traffic controller of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has left as the airport remains closed. The control tower has been closed for years.
Local resident Kamal Lamichhane said a police station still exists at the airport to provide security. After the airport closed, locals tore down the fence around it and let their cattle graze on the grounds. “Bushes have grown around the runway,” he added.
Local leader Yadu Acharya said locals were travelling by road. “But it is very difficult for people who have an emergency due to lack of air services,” he said.
The airport was built in 1971 targetting Rukum West, Salyan and Jajarkot districts.