KATHMANDU: Upon completion, the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa has been expected to serve more than 750,000 passengers annually.

In addition to helping increase the number of visitors to Lumbini from the traditional markets of India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, the airport is expected to increase the number of visitors from China, Japan, and South Korea, among others.

The Asian Development Bank had approved the South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project in November 2009 to develop and improve tourism-related infrastructure in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

The Nepal portion of the original project is funded through a loan and a grant from ADB’s Special Funds resources, each equivalent to $12.7 million, a loan from OPEC Fund for International Development for $15 million, and the Government of Nepal for $6 million.

On top of these, ADB’s additional loan of $30 million in 2014, along with $17.7 million from Nepal’s government and $3 million from the Asian Clean Energy Fund (ACEF), will finance the overall project cost of the Nepal component that is now estimated at $97.2 million.

The airport will have 3,000 meters runway and the existing 1,500 meter runway will be used as a parallel taxiway. The terminal building will be 15,169 square meter.

After completion of the upgrading, the airport will also serve as an alternate international air transport point for Nepal in the event of poor weather conditions or in case natural calamity shuts down Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the only international airport in the country at the moment.

Gautam Buddha International Airport will have take-off and landing facilities for large aircrafts such as Airbus A340 and Boeing 777. This will help reduce the existing air traffic congestion at TIA.

Nepal Trade Integration Strategy (NTIS) 2016 has identified a list of goods and services in which Nepal has a revealed comparative advantage. These include lentils, cardamom, ginger, medicinal and aromatic plants, among others. Presently, these items are largely exported to India via road. But, export diversification of such high-value low volume products via airways will be feasible once the Gautam Buddha International Airport comes into operation.

Nepal has signed bilateral air service agreements with a number of countries including Cambodia, Japan, Viet Nam, Sri Lanka where Buddhism is practiced.  Presently, Buddhist pilgrims from these countries visit Lumbini via TIA or India. If this new international airport comes into operation, then tourists from those countries can directly fly in and out from Bhairahawa, Lumbini.

The airport will help propel Nepal’s tourism sector by bringing in more tourists. With the operation of new international airport, migrant workers to Malaysia and Gulf countries from the Tarai belt of Nepal can fly out directly from Bhairahawa for overseas employment.