POKHARA, Aug 23: Pokhara Airport was shut down on Thursday after local stakeholders, airlines operators and local travel trade entrepreneurs, halted services in a bid to exert pressure on the government for construction of a regional international airport in the lake city.
The shutdown enforced by local entrepreneurs and other stakeholders forced airlines companies to cancel all 18 flights scheduled for different destinations.
According to Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines had originally scheduled five flights each for the Kathmandu-Pokhara-Kathmandu route for Thursday. Tara Airlines too had scheduled five flights for Pokhara-Jomsom-Pokhara route and one flight for Pokhara-Dolpa route.
Likewise, Guna Airlines had fixed two flights for Pokhara-Kathmandu-Pokhara route. “But all those flights were cancelled,” said Kedar Sharma, president of the Nepal Association of Tours and Travel Agents (NATTA).
The locals enforced the shutdown as a part of their protests. The locals have been staging protests since last week after the government failed to start construction of the international airport even six months after inviting tender.
CAAN had invited Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract on February 9. Although the authority had planned to award the contract by mid-July, it had halted the process after the lowest bidder quoted double the estimated cost, inviting resistance from CAAN staffers.
Tour operators associated with NATTA had stopped selling air tickets for Thursday since a week ago. The local stakeholders committee had also appealed to the pilot association to support them by not flying aircraft.
Later, airlines operators too announced cancellation of all flights, responding positively to the local stakeholders´ request.
This is the first ever shutdown of the Pokhara Airport since it came into operation some six decades ago. Entrepreneurs said they do not regret their action as it was done for a “good cause”.
Tourism entrepreneurs, meanwhile, said their protests did not affect the foreign tourists. “We had informed all the tourists about the shutdown. Some of them left for Kathmandu on Wednesday, while others have rescheduled their flight for Friday,” he stated.
In a bid to facilitate the tourists, NATTA had also operated more tourist coaches for Kathmandu. “We operated 17 tourist coaches on the Pokhara-Kathmandu route on the day. Under normal circumstances we operate only a dozen buses,” said Sharma.
Ananda Raj Mulmi, former president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) said that the shutdown was announced as Pokharelis deeply want the international airport project to materialize soon.
The locals have also started a relay hunger strike on Thursday to exert pressure on the government. Cartoonist Durga Baral (Batsyayan), former FNCCI president Aananda Raj Mulmi, folk singer Hari Devi Koirala, media entrepreneur Bishwa Shankar Palikhe, volleyball player Sipora Gurung and Pokhara FNCCI president Krishna Mohan Shrestha took part in the protest on the first day.
On Thursday, the locals also turned down the government´s call for talks, saying the government trying to diffuse their protests. They have demanded that the government form a talks team to hold talks with them.