The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has pledged to provide another loan of US$ 30 million to the government to scale up the upgrading of Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa into a regional international airport. The ADB said that the international airport would be equipped with high air safety systems.
“The number of foreign visitors to Lumbini is rapidly rising in recent years, and airport improvement will help in further opening Lumbini and linking it with international tourist circuits in South Asia as well as to the rest of the world,” said Kenichi Yokoyama, the ADB’s Country Director for Nepal.
Upon completion, the international airport is expected to serve 760,000 passengers annually by 2030, including 280,000 visitors to Lumbini which lies 20 km to the west.
Besides facilitating arrivals from the traditional markets of India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the airport is also expected to increase the number of visitors from China, Japan and Korea, among others. In addition, a number of international airlines, particularly from East Asia, have been showing interest in connecting Lumbini directly if there was an international-standard airport.
The ADB approved the airport upgradation plan as part of its South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project in 2009. The project has been focusing on developing and improving tourism related infrastructure in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
The project in Nepal is funded through a loan and a grant from the ADB’s Special Funds resources, each equivalent to US$ 12.7 million, a loan from the OPEC Fund for International Development worth US$ 15 million, and financing from the government worth US$ 6 million.
The ADB’s additional loan of US$ 30 million, along with US$ 17.7 million from the government and US$ 3 million from the Asian Clean Energy Fund (ACEF), will furnish the overall project cost for Nepal that is now estimated at US$ 97.2 million.
The additional financing will support the restructuring of the project including the increased scope of the airport from the originally designed regional international airport to a full-fledged international airport that can accommodate wide-body airplanes.
The upgraded design will add 400 m to make the runway length of 3,000 m. This will cover restructuring the existing 1,500-m runway for use as a parallel taxiway, constructing a new 15,169 sq m terminal building, improving drainage and installing more advanced navigational aids, equipment and airport lighting for safety.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal will be the implementing agency for the airport advancement. According to the ADB, the additional financing that it is providing through the ACEF will be used to support operation of electric vehicles for visitors in the Lumbini area. The Lumbini Development Trust will be the implementing agency for improving the tourist destination.
Five Chinese construction firms and two Spanish joint-venture (JV) firms are vying for the contract for the upgradation of the airport. The civil works include construction of a new runway, exit and parallel taxiway with flexible pavements, new international aircraft parking apron with rigid pavements, rehabilitation of the existing runway for conversion to parallel taxiway, drainage system parallel to runway, taxiway and diversion of Ghaghara Khola and airport boundary.