ADB masterplan model selected for Gelephu Airport

A few months ago, officials were looking at three models to build the Gelephu Airport and they have finally selected the Asian Development Bank masterplan by doing some additional studies on it.

This envisages building a new 3,000 meters runway around 50 to 60 meters above the current runway with the option to extend it to 3,500 meters in the future.

The current runway is only 1,500 meters.

A team from Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is here and they will design the airport after which the final cost of the airport will be known.

As of now initially the ADB option was thought to cost Nu 8 Billion (bn) but now estimates suggest it could cost up to Nu 20 bn with the final cost estimate being known after the design.

The 20 bn estimate is that of the Airport Authority of India.

The 3,000 meters length airport will be able to land the Airbus 320 and 321 and also the Airbus 350. In the future when funds are available and it is extended to 3,500 meters it will be able to land the Airbus 380. In that final plan the runway will be running over two rivers.

As of now the runway will involve a culvert over one river.

The new runway will extend from the Paitha Khola river to the Aiepoly Big river. The current airport will eventually come under a landfill to support the 1% gradient of the new airport.

The north side of the airport will be towards Sarpang and the south towards Gelephu town.

An advantage of the building a new runway will be that the old runway can still be used during the construction phase to allow visitors to fly in and out which will be important for the Gelephu Mindfulness City project.

The government also has 752 acres in the area which is a combination of government land and acquired private land. It will be seen if more land needs to be acquired in the future.

The new runway will be farther away from the Indian border and will have new terminal and other facilities too.

The new airport will also have a suitable flightpath.

The government had two more option for the airport which it discarded for now.

If the government went with another option of just making the current airport longer from 1,500 meters to 2,240 meters it would cost much lesser at around Nu 2 bn but it would mean no possible extensions to land bigger aircraft and the current runway anyway would have to be dug up at the current gradient is 2.3% as against the required international standard of 1% gradient. This would mean the current airport would be out of action for a long time.

The other option which was most expensive and long-term option is the one proposed by Bjarke Ingels which has a 4,000-meter-long runway including one that goes over the Sunkosh River. This would be big enough to land the Airbus 380.

This airport would cost USD 4 to 5 bn and a lot of the money would go in landfills for the right slope for the airport.

However, the third option is only viable once the current airport shows it is vibrant and the City also kicks of successfully.

The new runway will subsume the current runway as it will require aircraft parking space etc.

Currently India provides the Subsu and Bogo air routes over India for planes flying from Paro and for Gelephu Bhutan is requesting two more routes of Igay and Taray in the east and west to directly fly out and in, as otherwise it will have to use a long and circuitous route.

It is hope this is agreed to and updated in the Bilateral Air Service agreement. There has been positivity at the request at the higher level but a ground level technical study is being done on the Indian side.

The Airport Authority of India is doing studies and it is expected it will take time but Bhutan is going ahead with the initial works for now.

Gelephu also recently already got certified as an international airport by the ICAO and so Bhutan is planning to start international flights using the ATR plane to nearby destinations like Bagdora, Guwahati and Kolkata etc.

Bhutan wants to first do an inaugural international flight using the ATR to India and here Bhutan’s Foreign Ministry has written to the Ministry of External Affairs and a reply is awaited.

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