S. Sierra, Kathmandu
Since, Tribhuvan International Airport’s only runway went into rehabilitation from April 01, 2019, the airport operations have been squeezed to 14 hours from previous 21 hours of operation. Already, a very congested traffic airspace of TIA has now resulted into a next level of congestion. Aware about this situation Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) had made necessary preparation; but not adequate, in order to decrease traffic congestion of TIA. Thus, the Lukla flights that have been taking off from TIA were transferred to Ramechhap Airport which lies east of TIA and in a few hours’ drive from Kathmandu.
The sole objective to transfer the flights was to decrease the morning flight traffic congestion in TIA as the operation hours sifted to 8:00 AM in the morning until when most of the flights for Lukla would have taken off from Kathmandu. Since Mid-April to Mid-May is the most favorable season for climbers to peak Mount Everest, Lukla flights are in high demand especially in this season as Lukla is only the gateway to Everest for climbers.
So everyday hundreds of passengers flying to Lukla that were supposed to take off from Kathmandu are transported to Ramechhap at Manthali district in a bus, where they will be able to join the actual flight from Ramechhap to Lukla. So, let’s forget about Kathmandu, Ramechhap Airport is the one that has been handling heavy flow of passengers daily in this season meanwhile, creating a chaos in the small airport which was never designed to handle this amount of passengers it faces each day now.
Hence, Ramechhap Airport has experienced a next level of misery presently. Neither the airport nor the authority were prepared to withstand this chaos of airport and everyone can make a notice of this who has visited or flew through this airport in recent days. This is where we can see a sheer negligence of aviation authorities for being unpreparedness of the situation they were pretty aware about, even though having ample amount of time before the flight were shifted.
Still the main concern is that, major problems in the airport have been overlooked by the authorities. The roads to the airport and even inside the airport can be observed in pathetic condition. The recent rainfall made the roads worse and every passenger traveling to and fro the airport have been drained dirty in the muddy roads and airport links. The prevention of this and improving of the airport links were never thought by the authorities due to which the passengers are paying off now.
Another serious problem overlooked by the authority is runway trespassing. The runway at Ramechhap Airport is often used by the locals as a shortcut in their walking journey. It was not a major issue when very few flights operated in the airport before the Lukla flights were sifted. However, this time when the flights have reached to maximum and the runway is mostly busy authority has not still imposed a strict restriction on runway trespassing for which the passengers can be seen crossing the runway right after a plane would roll for takeoff or landing on the runway. This situation seems that the airport is waiting for a serious mishap that could be caused by Foreign Object Damage (FOD) to the flying aircraft in this airport. The concerned authorities should have to consider this issue as soon as possible and resolve it by implying the strict restrictions to cross the runway by local peoples.
Similarly, the fuel bowser being used for refueling the aircraft in the airport is seen to be very old and lacking the maintenance. The condition of the bowser makes it doubtful if it has been cleaned according to the standards and if is really preventing fuel contamination. Time and again Nepal Oil Corporation has been indulged in aviation fuel contamination issue. In Ramechhap airport too, they again don’t seem to be serious about the problem. The concerned aviation authorities have also not drawn their attention towards it, which seems to be a serious trouble for now.
Ramechhap Airport is handling around 50 flights daily including the helicopter operations but the authorities have still not come up with a solid solution to the prevailing issues in the airport presently. As long as the season prevails, Ramechhap Airport has to cope up unprepared with these issues which definitely are not safe for airport operation and safety of aircraft and passengers. The concerned authorities should quickly draw their attention on these factors and ensure the safety of hundreds of passengers and aircraft flying through the airport every day.