China-assisted Pokhara airport takes shape

By Shen Weiduo in Kathmandu Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/13 21:23:40

Project will increase tourism potential, bring economic benefits for Nepal

A digital rendering of the Pokhara airport. Photo: Courtesy of China CAMC Engineering Co

The Pokhara Regional International Airport, a major undertaking of the Belt and Road Initiative that is under construction, will propel Nepal's tourism development and bring more income for South Asian countries, a project manager said. 

    The airport, once completed, will be the largest China-assisted project in Nepal. Located in Pokhara Lekhnath Metropolitan City, some 200 kilometers from Kathmandu, the Pokhara airport is expected to become the country's second major international airport. Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu is now the country's only international airport.

The new airport is a priority "National Pride Project" of Nepal.

"About 47 percent of the project has been completed," Yang Zhigang, general manager of the No.1 Engineering Department of the China CAMC Engineering Co, who is responsible for the project, told the Global Times in an interview. "The airport is expected to be fully completed by 2021, but we are striving to complete it before that time."

The runway, which can handle medium-category jets such as the Boeing 757 and Airbus 320, was completed at the end of September.

During President Xi Jinping's visit to the South Asian country over the weekend, China and Nepal signed a joint statement on Sunday, saying that the two will "coordinate closely" to speed up construction of the Pokhara International Airport so that it would start operations at an early date.

Tourism boom

"Pokhara, a scenic lake city in western Nepal, is one of the major destinations for tourists. But many tourists have avoided the city because of poor conditions at the old airport," Yang said. 

"Once the new airport is completed, with an annual throughput of 1 million passengers compared with about 300,000 now, the city's tourism sector is set to welcome more visitors, including those from China," said Yang.

The number of Chinese people visiting Nepal has surged over the past year. According to data provided by the Chinese Embassy in Nepal, in 2018, the number of Chinese tourists increased by 46.8 percent on a yearly basis. China has become the fastest-growing source of tourists in Nepal.

During China's just-concluded National Day holidays, the number of Chinese visitors to Nepal increased about 16 percent year-on-year, far higher than the growth rates of other markets, said Xu Xiaolei, manager of marketing at China's CYTS Tours Holding Co.

Data provided to the Global Times by online travel platform showed that searches for Nepal on its website increased by more than 13 percent in the first half of 2019.

To boost the tourism drive further, Nepalese Himalayan Airlines announced that it will operate a direct flight from Kathmandu to Beijing starting on October 27.

In the joint statement released on Sunday, the two neighboring countries vowed to expand their air rights arrangements, which will encourage airlines on both sides to launch more direct flights.

Zhang Fan, Economic and Commercial Counselor at the Embassy of China to Nepal, told the Global Times that with the coming of the Visit Nepal Year 2020 program, the two countries' tourism industries are set to become closer. Zhang said that Chinese visitors to Nepal are forecast to reach 500,000 in 2020.

"Apart from the tourist boom, the new airport will also help better connect Nepal with other neighboring countries, including India," Yang said.

Yang added that when recruiting construction workers, the company had adopted a "Nepalese first" strategy and made an effort to hire more local people. The project has created more than 400 job opportunities, and as it moves forward, 200 more are expected to be created.

More BRI projects

Chinese companies operating in Nepal are eyeing more projects as the two countries agreed to intensify implementation of the memorandum of understanding on cooperation under the BRI, to enhance connectivity in ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications. 

"Infrastructure capability in the country is still low, and there are many potential projects here that China could help with. We'd like to help build Nepal and carry out more major infrastructure projects like the airport," Yang said. Zhu Qingjun, secretary general of Chinese Enterprise Association in Nepal, said that Nepal's abundant hydropower resources and tourism resources offer huge business opportunities.

As the country enters a period of relative political stability, more Chinese people are seeing business opportunities and more Chinese companies will set foot here, Zhu said.Chinese companies have been the main force behind Nepal's engineering contracting market, and they had signed contracts worth a total of $5.45 billion as of the end of 2018.

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