Construction of Gautam Buddha Airport to upgrade it to a regional international airport has finally started. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala laid a foundation stone, formally inaugurating the civil work of the airport.
The regional airport upgrading work will be completed by December 2017, as per the agreement reached with the Chinese contractor. Addressing the ground-breaking ceremony of the regional international airport, Koirala said that it will open the way for economic development of the country by boosting tourism.
In October last year, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) had signed an agreement to upgrade the existing airport with Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group of China, the lowest bidder for the project. It had quoted Rs 5.50 billion for the project, which is estimated to cost Rs 6.22 billion as per the government estimation THT online reports.
The project is part of Asian Development Bank (ADB)-supported South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project, which aims at developing and improving tourism-related infrastructure. The Bhairahawa airport is being upgraded into a regional international airport, which is the gateway to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.
The airport project has been touted as one of the most viable projects because of the potential to draw a large number of Buddhist pilgrims to Lumbini from countries like India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan and South Korea. The distance between the airport and Lumbini is just 20 km.
After upgradation and operation from 2018, it is estimated that domestic and international tourist flow to Lumbini will increase to 450,000 annually. Similarly, it has been projected that the passenger movement in the airport will increase to one million in 10 years. The government has a plan to complete the second phase of the upgradation plan by 2030 to facilitate movement of six million passengers annually.
According to CAAN, of the total project cost, ADB will provide $58.50 million ($42.75 in loans and $15.75 million in grants) for this project, while OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) will provide $15 million loan. The government will chip in the remaining fund required for the project as counterpart funding.