Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa could become the second fully solar-powered airport in the world when it opens in early 2020, after India’s Cochin International Airport which earned the distinction in 2015.
A fully solar-powered airport means that the entire airport—from the air traffic control room, baggage claim and runway lights to ground control rooms and passenger terminals—operates on energy from the sun.
“The airport premises contain plenty of vacant space that can be used to set up solar panels. The Asian Development Bank has agreed ‘in principle’ to fund the ‘green airport’ project,” said Naresh Pradhan, project officer-transport at the Asian Development Bank. The multilateral lending agency may provide a separate grant for the project. The airport covers an area of 787 bighas.
The project aims to create a power neutral airport which means that it can produce as much energy as it consumes. A round of discussions with the Tourism and Finance ministries, Nepal Electricity Authority and Nepal Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal have been completed, said Pradhan.
The stakeholders may also visit some airports operated by solar power. According to Pradhan, the project aims to produce 10 MW of solar power. “The surplus energy will flow into the national grid.”
The solar plant is estimated to cost nearly $10 million, or $1 million per MW, and take around six months to complete. The airport will not have to pay any electric utility bill, and it can earn revenue by selling extra energy. Its only expenses will be repair costs.
“The green airport can set an example for the rest of the world by contributing to the protection of the environment,” said Pradhan. “It’s a preliminary plan. But we expect to see it materialise within the next six months when the airport comes into operation.”
Located in south central Nepal, the airport is the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha.
The civil works contract worth Rs6.22 billion was awarded to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013. The airport was initially slated to be ready by December 2017. However, fuel and building material shortages due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed the upgradation work by six months, and its operation deadline was revised to June 2018.
Subsequently, a dispute over payment between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor, Northwest Infra Nepal, stalled work at the construction site for more than six months. As a result, the project deadline was extended many times after the initial extensions. The project is expected to come into operation by early 2020.
In March, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal awarded a $4.83 million contract to install communications, navigation and surveillance and air traffic management systems at the airport to Aeronautical Radio of Thailand.
The Thai company needs to complete the navigation system by December. After the equipment is installed, tested and commissioned, flight calibration of the navigation and communication systems needs to be done. This will take at least two more months, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.
Two weeks ago, the cabinet had given an in-principle approval to the Tourism Ministry to appoint international firms for the operational readiness and airport transfer (ORAT) operation of the airport in Bhairahawa through a government to government deal.
ORAT is the best way to ensure that every aspect of a new facility functions flawlessly right from day one. ORAT consultants work with airport stakeholders to formulate new processes, train staff, and test every single new system and procedure from passenger and baggage handling to airside operations.