Pokhara Regional International Airport, a project constructed with financial support from China, is grappling with operational challenges, causing disruptions to flights. Despite being recently inaugurated with much fanfare by the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu, technical issues have begun to surface.
On Monday, a flight departing from Tribhuvan Airport was compelled to return to Kathmandu due to communication equipment problems at Pokhara International Airport. Sources indicate that the flight was interrupted after the radar’s VHF system encountered a malfunction.
Tribhuvan International Airport’s spokesperson, Subas Jha, confirmed that both Yeti Airlines and Shree Airlines flights had to return to Kathmandu when communication with the airport tower in Pokhara became problematic. “Two planes returned to Kathmandu when there was a problem with the tower’s communication service,” explained Jha.
It’s worth noting that the Pokhara airport was recently handed over to the government after construction commenced on July 18, 2016, following an agreement between the government and the Chinese state-owned contractor CAMCE.
To fund the airport’s construction, the government signed an agreement with China’s Exim Bank in 2015, securing a loan of 1.37 billion Chinese yuan. A notable feature of this loan is the exemption from a 25 percent interest rate, amounting to 344 million 46 million 85 thousand yuan. The remaining amount incurs a 2 percent interest rate, which is relatively high compared to loans from international donor agencies, typically featuring interest rates below 1 percent. This loan encompasses a grace period of 7 years and is to be repaid over a 20-year term.
Concerns arose when it was revealed that the handover occurred without the installation of crucial equipment at the airport. The Instrument Landing System (ILS), a vital component for aircraft landings, was only installed post-handover. An unfortunate incident involving a Yeti Airlines plane took place in Pokhara before the ILS was operational.
The ILS equipment was eventually installed on February 23. However, the airport had already been inaugurated by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda on January 1. A Yeti Airlines plane had previously crashed near the airport on January 15.
The preliminary findings of the government’s inquiry committee investigating the accident revealed that the primary cause of the plane crash was the non-deviation of propeller blades in both engines, which remained at a 90-degree angle. Furthermore, it was disclosed that the ILS equipment was only activated after the accident occurred. The ILS plays a critical role in facilitating safe landings, especially in adverse weather conditions.