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HomeBELT AND ROAD AND OTHER CHINESE DEBT TRAPSNepal caught in China’s debt trap! Nepal International Airport, for which Nepal...

Nepal caught in China’s debt trap! Nepal International Airport, for which Nepal had to pay vast sums of money to China, had just five international flights in 2023!

The recently opened Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA), funded largely by loans from China, has experienced only a minimal five international charter flights since its launch on January 1, 2023. Despite ambitious plans to accommodate 1 million air passengers annually, the airport’s operations are falling short of expectations, sparking concerns among local residents and authorities.

The Civil Aviation Authority Office at Pokhara International Airport has revealed that only five international flights occurred throughout the year, prompting growing concerns about the ambitious project’s sustainability and impact.

The first international flight, a Sichuan Airlines plane from Chengdu, China, landed at PRIA on June 18. This flight, carrying 84 Chinese guests attending the Dragon Boat Race Festival at Fewa Lake, was a significant moment. However, the return trip via Kathmandu was empty, raising doubts about the viability of international routes from PRIA.

The second international flight, a Druk Air service from Bhutan’s Paro International Airport, arrived on September 8. Bringing only three passengers to Pokhara, it departed with 42 foreign passengers, marking PRIA’s first commercial flight according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). This development casts doubt on the airport’s ability to attract regular international travellers.

On November 8, two Chinese cargo aircraft arrived in Pokhara, transporting relief materials for earthquake victims in Jajarkot and Rukum. While highlighting the airport’s potential role in facilitating aid operations, it also emphasized the absence of regular commercial flights using PRIA.

Later, on November 23, a Himalayan Airlines plane brought a team of Chinese athletes to Pokhara, totaling 95 individuals, showcasing the airport’s capacity for special events. However, such occasional events may not sustain the economic aspirations tied to PRIA.

Although the inauguration of PRIA was celebrated enthusiastically by Pokhara’s local residents on the first day of the English New Year in 2023, disappointment has grown over the year. Many complaints suggest that the tourism sector and Gandaki Province as a whole have not reaped the anticipated benefits from the international airport.

Local businesses and authorities had high expectations for increased tourism, economic growth, and job opportunities with the establishment of PRIA. However, the limited number of international flights has raised doubts about the airport’s impact on the local economy and its ability to fulfil the promises made during its inception.

Pokhara International Airport was constructed with a loan of 190 million $ from China’s Exim Bank. 

The loan has a grace period of 7 years and is to be repaid over a total of 20 years.

Based on the article in

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