Written by M.B. Subba, Gelephu    

Feb 01, 2009: The long awaited Gelephu airport project is likely to materialise within six months from now, after the minister of information and communications, Lyonpo Nandalal Rai pushed forward the government’s determination to start the project during his site visit on 29 January.

“The project is nearing reality,” said the director general of department of civil aviation, Phala Dorji. “The department will begin the groundwork like demarcation of land boundary, acquisition and fencing six months from now,” he added.

He said that the feasibility study is almost complete and survey of the site and gathering of equipments and other materials will begin soon.

The government is determined to perform what it has promised to the people. The minister said that the government will move forward with its plan to construct the airport without paying attention to views of the people and experts.

“We can’t always listen to the expert suggestions, we have to take our own decision in the end.  We must get a move ahead,” the minister said.

The minister tried to convince the people that the government and the respective ministry was doing what ever was possible to accomplish what they had promised during the elections.

Since the project will be covering an area of up to 840 acres, forest land has to be cleared, according to visiting officials from the department of civil aviation. However, the government will consult with NEC on this matter.

The director general said that the fund for the project will be decided after the master plan has been completed. He said that there is already Nu.6 million in hand for construction of basic facilities like runways and terminals. According to him, basic facilities like runways and terminals and fencing can be completed within two years.

In order to accelerate the project the government is likely to divert some of the 
Paro airport fund to the Gelephu airport. The minister said that the government, if necessary, will do it.

The DG also added that the Gelephu airport will be a better site than the one in Paro, given its geographical features. Gelephu airport will have a 4000 metre long runway, almost double to that of the 2200 metre in Paro airport. 

It will have a 45-metre wide runway with the terminals at least 500 meter away from the runway, according to the department of civil aviation. Officials say that a parallel runway can be constructed in future when it will be upgraded to international airport.

However, they ruled out the possibility of covering Indian air space while it is a  domestic airport, as it is illegal. High level diplomacy has to 
be involved if it covers the Indian air space when it becomes international.

According to Captain Karma Dupchu of Druk Air, the present site is very promising and one of the best possible sites available in the country. “But it is not an ideal one either, given the mountain terrain and site facing the Indian border.

Acquisition of land for the airport may prove to be difficult, with people demanding market rate as compensation for their land, which is likely to exhaust government resources.

The value of land at the airport site has shot up in the recent times, to an all time high of Nu 25, 000 a decimal.

The minister said people would be given compensation in cash or land. The Dzongda suggested that the people whose land will be taken may be relocated to  Mao Gaon and Tarithang.
(Source: Bhutan Today daily)

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