Baglung Airport sits high and dry for lack of an access road

Balewa Airport in Baglung is located high and dry, surrounded by terraced fields, as the roads leading to it have been cut off by landslides.

Travelers cannot get to the airport and no flights operate from here, leaving Baglung, a historic trading center in western Nepal, without flight connections.

Two roads lead to the airport which is 10 km from Maldhunga. Both collapsed after being hit by landslides for three consecutive years. The roads are completely closed during the three months of the monsoon. As a result, travelers are forced to walk.

“The road division does nothing during the rainy season. Even though the municipality has spent large sums of money and opened the roads to car traffic, it has not been possible to keep them open,” said Basant Kumar Shrestha, Mayor of Baglung Municipality.

“The airport is the pride of the region, and it doesn’t feel good not being able to operate it,” he said. “If there’s no road access, travelers can’t get to the airport to fly out.”

Deputy Mayor Raju Khadka said travelers would not risk traveling on the wrong roads to board.

“Everyone wants to get to the airport by taxi, but because of the landslide, it’s difficult even for four-wheel drive vehicles like the Bolero,” he said. “The runway has been completed, but there is no possibility of transferring passengers to and from the airport.”

Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority, Baglung Municipality and political leaders, who were pushing the contractor to complete construction quickly, show no interest in operating the airport now that it is ready, insiders say .

The airport runway, 700 meters long and 24 meters wide, has been paved. But we don’t know if a plane will land on it.

The airport grounds were surrounded by a wire fence and the terminal building was repaired and painted.

Civil Aviation Authority program manager Meenraj Ojha had said flights would be operated from the airport in mid-May.

“Political leaders show no interest, and there is no possibility of carrying out services due to lack of access roads,” said Chakra Bahadur Khatri, chairman of Baglung-14 municipality.

The government has awarded a contract to cover a 10 km section of the Kaligandaki Corridor from Maldhunga to Balewa. But Shrestha said it would be difficult to operate the airport until it is certain that the road will be paved.

The asphalt road from Maldhunga to Galuwa to Panitanki is also not in regular service due to landslides.

“Even though the Kaligandaki Corridor is within the municipal boundary, the road construction and paving works are outside its jurisdiction,” Khadka said. “The municipality has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove debris from the landslides and open the road track,” he said.

Kasthamandap Uma and Joint Venture Construction Company covered the track last year at a cost of Rs 80.24 million.

Regular flights operated from the airport to Kathmandu, Pokhara and Bhairahawa until 1993. Khatri said services were discontinued after the Pokhara-Baglung route was opened.

In 2015, then-tourism minister Lokendra Bista and education minister Dinanath Sharma also pledged to resume services.

Baglung Municipality operated flights in 2018 even though planes flew with rows of empty seats, causing heavy losses to the city.

The airlines were incurring losses operating two weekly flights, and discussions were held to cover the runway as the poor condition of the runway posed a safety risk.

A 620-meter concrete drain, a 1,500-meter fence, a main gate and an emergency gate were also constructed at the airport. The runway can accommodate aircraft with a capacity of 18 to 24 seats.

Although the construction works have been completed, stakeholders have not taken any initiative to operate flights, residents say.

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