Tribhuvan International Airport bans heavy aircrafts
Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) imposed ban on the landings of heavy aircraft transporting humanitarian aid and chartered services to Nepal to prevent further damage to the runway.
Aircraft weighing more than 196 tonnes will not be permitted to land at the TIA, a press note said, adding that the scheduled international flights are permitted for operations with any type of aircraft.
The officials said that they were forced to take the decision after more than three cracks appeared on the five-decade-old airstrip. More than 300 rescue flights, including 150 chartered, have landed at the TIA since the devastating earthquake that rattled the country on April 25.
Currently, the only airport is handling an average of 90 commercial flights, apart from 50 to 60 rescue flights every day. On normal days, the airport sees 60 international flights – including landing and takeoff – and around 300 domestic flights. The airport had operated 24 hours after Saturday’s devastating earthquake. “Due to influx of relief materials and rescue team, we will continue to operate round the clock till Tuesday,” the airport authority said, adding that they will review the situation Tuesday to decide on whether to operate round the clock or not.
Earlier on Wednesday only, the international airport had handled a record 447 flight movements as the aircrafts from different countries carrying humanitarian aid.
“As the problem at airstrip has started to reappear, we cannot afford to permit landing of heavy jets,” said an official at the airport that is at the risk of closure, if not acted immediately.
According to manager at Tribhuwan International Airport Birendra Shrestha said bigger planes were banned because the runway was deteriorating. “The runway was built to handle only medium-size jetliners and not the large military and cargo planes that have been flying to the airport,” he added.
Last week witnessed a steady procession of big jets trying to fly in goods and relief workers, as well as a swarm of journalists, but the small airport has parking slots for only nine jets and only one runway.
As airport congestion was only the latest complication in the global effort to aid people, the ‘notice to airmen’ issued today said that the only international airports has seen three aircraft land with heavy payload of relief materials–Boeing 747-400 from Israel, Airbus A350 from France and Ilyushin Il-76 from India, apart from choppers every hour from India blocking the scheduled commercial flights.
The notice was issued after technically assessing that the overuse of the runway by unscheduled flights is damaging it, the airport officials said, adding that the runway is taking three times the regular schedule of flights compared to normal traffic.
However, many countries, including the US and Canada, have been asking ‘to lift the restriction’. The US has planned to bring in relief materials on a Boeing 747 aircraft–often referred to by its nickname the Jumbo jet. Canada plans to fly in relief materials in an-8 Wing CFB Trenton.
As the only runway can’t handle the strain of the stream of large aircraft flying in to help, the authorities have said that medium and small-size jets will still be allowed to land
It is the second instance in the last two years that the only international airport has imposed such restriction due to cracks on the runway. In August 2013, the airport authority had asked all international carriers to find alternatives to wide-body aircraft flying into Kathmandu. The cracks were first appeared on the runway in June 2011, which has since become a perennial problem.
A report submitted nearly a year ago by Ayesa Ingenieria, a Spanish company contracted to evaluate TIA’s runway and taxiway, had revealed that the TIA runway is not capable of handling wide-body aircraft due to its ageing asphalt foundation. The runway’s upper surface comes off instantly under stress when heavy jets land.
“You’ve got one runway, and you’ve got limited handling facilities, and you’ve got the ongoing commercial flights,” said the UN coordinator for Nepal Jamie McGoldrick. “You put on top of that massive relief items coming in, the search and rescue teams that has clogged up this airport,” he said, adding that the bottlenecks in aid delivery were slowly disappearing, and the Nepalese government eased customs and other bureaucratic hurdles on humanitarian aid following complaints from the UN.
Likewise, a spokesman for the British charity Oxfam Kai Tabacek said that the main problem was that Kathmandu airport was too small ‘to deal with huge volume of traffic. “Of course, there have been some delays, but these have more to do with the challenge of moving large volumes of goods than customs,” he added.
Likewise, the residents in the surrounding areas of the airport have complained the airport authority that they were terrified by the loud noise of the big jets. They have also warned the authority that they would picket the airstrip, if they donot responds to their plea immediately.