The Gautam Buddha International Airport project is expected to come into operation by July 2019.

The airport in Bhairahawa, the gateway to the pilgrimage destination of Lumbini in south central Nepal, is being upgraded to an international airport.

Om Sharma, chief of the airport project, said that the final base laying works of 3,000-metre-long and 45-metre-wide runway will be completed by July-end. And it will be blacktopped by September.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Neal (CAAN) had awarded the Rs6.22-billion project upgradation contract to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013.

The airport was initially slated to be ready in December 2017. However, shortages of fuel and building materials due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed the upgradation works by six months, and its operation deadline was revised to June 2018.

Of the total project cost, the ADB has provided $58.50 million ($42.75 in loans and $15.75 million in grants), the Opec Fund for International Development (OFID) has provided a $15 million loan and Caan will bear the rest of the cost as counterpart funding.

The national pride project has been envisaged to serve the fast-rising business and industrial hub of Bhairahawa and facilitate international pilgrims to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha.

After the first phase of upgradation, the airport’s handling capacity will be increased to 760,000 passengers annually.

The airport will also become Nepal’s second international airport and also serve as an alternate international air transport point in the event of poor weather conditions or in case natural calamity shuts down the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the only international airport in the country.