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Nepal PM Dahal Inaugurates China-backed International Airport In Pokhara

During the inauguration of the airport, Prime Minister Dahal said that the airport would connect the landlocked nation with the rest of the world, serving as an effective mode of transportation

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Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal inaugurated the country's third international airport on Sunday, built with Chinese loans and donations against the Annapurna Mountain Range.

The Himalayan nation's third international airport has been inaugurated in the tourist valley, as the previous airport lacked proper infrastructure and also failed to provide an air route via India. There were no hotels nearby and no proper transportation to the airport.

Nepal had previously inaugurated another airport, the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Siddharthanagar near the Indian border, in 2022. Despite being expected to supplement Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu, the airport is barely seeing international traffic.

During the ceremony to inaugurate the airport, Prime Minister Dahal said that the airport would connect the landlocked nation with the rest of the world, serving as an effective mode of transportation.

“Today marks the official opening of the Pokhara International Airport. The city is now connected to the international market as a result of this,” Dahal said. “Soon we will begin construction of Nijgadh International Airport,” the Prime Minister added, referring to the airport that has been ordered by the court not to be built.

Earlier this decade, the Apex Court issued a ruling ordering a halt to construction because the airport would harm vegetation in the nation's southern plains.

In order to build and inaugurate airports across Nepal, the Himalayan Nation obtained a soft loan from China in the amount of 215.96 million USD in March of 2016. The Nepal Civil Authority and the China EXIM Bank signed an agreement in which China CAMC Engineering was awarded the construction contract.

China's Exim Bank agreed to provide 25 per cent of the loan without interest and set the interest rate at 2 per cent per year for the remaining amount, with a 20-year payback period.

Despite the fact that the Prime Minister dedicated the airport on 1 January, coinciding with the English New Year, international flights to and from the airport are expected to begin in the second week of February.

Despite the fact that air routes through India are on the way, the race to build and open international airports in Nepal has reached new heights. Both airports are awaiting approval from their southern neighbour to establish air routes that will keep airlines flying.

The second international airport, Gautam Buddha International Airport, which opened seven months ago, is also struggling to gain traction. Only 31,618 passengers landed and took off from the airport in the end.

The airport is now planning to suspend flights due to a low passenger turnout. Himalaya Airlines, a private Nepali international flyer, announced the suspension of chartered flights in late December 2022, only a month and a half after opening for business.

On 3 November, the company began its chartered flight to Malaysia from the international airport.

“We are forced to make the decision due to the low number of passengers,” Himalaya Airline's vice-chairman Vijay Shrestha explained.

The airlines began the chartered flight following the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal's (CAAN) requirement that airlines operating three international flights from the Tribhuvan International Airport per day operate the service from the much-touted airport.

Before this, Jazeera Airways, which was supposed to begin daily flights in September, reduced the number of flights from the airport in less than a month.

The total cost of building the country's second international airport was USD 76.1 million. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested approximately USD 37 million in loans and grants, while the OPEC Fund for International Development has contributed approximately USD 11 million in loans. The remainder was covered by the government.

The economic viability of air passengers who wish to travel through the Gautam Buddha International Airport has been called into question.

Passengers flying from Bhairahawa to Kathmandu have had to pay additional fees.

The airport opened for business on 16 May 2022. Only Jazeera Airways currently operates three flights per week there. Despite the government's various incentives for airlines flying from the airport, few have expressed an interest.

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