The present context of Gautam Buddha International Airport

More than two months have passed since Nepal’s second international airport, i.e., Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA), came into operation. On May 16, GBIA officially opened its door for business on the birth anniversary of Gautam Buddha. The Airbus A320 of Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways was the first aircraft to touch the soil of the airport on May 16.

Besides Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Gautam Buddha Airport is currently the only airport in operation since the opening date for the newly constructed airport in Pokhara has been extended to January 1, 2023. After over seven decades of operation of TIA, Nepal built its second international air facility in Bhairahawa. Conceived as the international gateway to Lumbini-the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, what’s the present context of GBIA nowadays?

GBIA operations in the present context

The Gautam Buddha Airport has come into full-fledged operation since mid-May, and only one international airline currently uses the airport. Jazeera Airways is the only carrier operating scheduled services to and from Bhairahawa Airport. It is Jazeera’s second service to Nepal since it also operates regular international flights to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. The Kuwaiti carrier spread its wings to GBIA to offer direct services from Kuwait to the gateway of Lumbini and boost tourism in Bhairahawa. During one and a half months of GBIA operation, Jazeera has ferried about 6000 passengers on 27 flights. Currently, Jazeera operates three weekly flights from Bhairahawa Airport to Kuwait City with onward service to Doha.

To bolster GBIA’s presence in the country’s aviation sector, Hungary Airlines’ Wizz Air is planning to launch flights to Bhairahawa using its state-of-the-art Airbus A321neo series aircraft. The long-range passenger aircraft A321neo of Wizz Air will be the first aircraft of this model to penetrate the Nepalese skies. From September, this Hungary-based ultra-low-cost airline will operate flights on the Abu Dhabi-Bhairahawa route deploying the A321neo model jetliner, which will comfortably seat anywhere from a typical 170 to 200 passengers. Wizz Air targets to attract religious tourists by offering flights to the pilgrimage tourism destination of Nepal.

Airlines showing interest in operating at GBIA

Various international airlines, esp. carriers of destination countries of migrant workers, have shown their eagerness to launch commercial services at GBIA airport. Airlines such as SalamAir, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Fly Dubai, Oman Air, etc., seem to be keenly interested in flying since Bhairahawa is ideally suited to become a hub for the labor market. Despite the expression of interest by these airlines for commercial flight operations at GBIA, nothing concrete has materialized till now. Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines are also making necessary assessments regarding commencing international commercial flights from Bhairahawa Airport.

Waiving off several charges

To woo international airlines to use the recently-built airport, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has granted a 100% waiver of charges on landing, parking, communication, navigation aid, and security check for one year. A fee of around $2000 per flight has been waived off for international airlines to encourage them to launch services as it will lower the risk of their entry. Effective from May 28, the subsidy will be available for a year for international flights to Nepal’s second international airport.

Losses piling up

Spread over 533 hectares, the new air facility at Bhairahawa can serve nearly a million passengers a year. Still, unfortunately, the airport has not even recorded ten thousand passenger movements since it opened in May. With only one foreign airline, the 24hour-open modern infrastructure just handles three international operations in a week. Built on the investment of $76.1 million, the airport is making the civil aviation body incur financial losses as the airport is generating minimal revenue. The Asian Development Bank has contributed about USD 37 million in loans and grants for airport construction to contribute to Nepal’s overall development and prosperity. Due to the lack of commercial jets wanting to fly to the airport, the losses at GBIA are piling up.

High hopes for GBIA

Gautam Buddha International Airport has been constructed to minimize traffic congestion at TIA and connect Lumbini to Buddhist circuits in South Asia and the rest of the world. In the long run, GBIA is envisaged to form a cornerstone of the country’s overall development and be the messenger of peace and prosperity from Buddhabhumi worldwide.

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