Pokhara is not only the most well-liked tourist destination in Nepal but is also considered the nation’s tourism hub. From Lakeside, the city sprawls out into a beautiful wonderland for tourists to explore. What used to be a long eight-hour drive, or 30-minute domestic flight from the country’s entry point, at Kathmandu, can now be done directly, thanks to Pokhara’s international airport.
What has been long overdue will finally come to fruition in 2023. The international airport in Pokhara has been a dream of the Government of Nepal for over 50 years. With tourism increasing again in Nepal after the devastating pandemic that completely shut down tourism in the country, Nepal has high hopes for the new international airport.
The History of Pokhara’s International Airport:
In 1971, the idea of building an international airport in Pokhara was originally conceived. The Nepalese government purchased land for that purpose in 1976. The Japan International Cooperation Agency carried out a study on the airport’s construction in 1989. However, the project hit a roadblock and was restarted in 2009 after a new air transport agreement between India and Nepal was finalized. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal and China CAMC Engineering entered into a contract in 2013 to build the airport.
The Export-Import Bank of China gave Nepal a preferential loan of about 215 million USD, and China Aid paid a portion of the loan interest to reduce the total loan interest. The Asian Development Bank supported the project with loans and grants equalling USD 37 million, and the OPEC Fund for International Development with USD 11 mil. Construction on the airport began in April 2016 and is scheduled to be completed in 2021 for about US$305 million.
Direct Access to Pokhara:
The main function of the international airport will be to provide direct access to Pokhara. The city is known as “the Jewel of the Himalayas” for its crystal clear air, stunning panoramic views of the snowy peaks to the north, and for being the city of lakes.
Moreover, the city has the Annapurna Range, which is home to three of the ten tallest mountains in the world—Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and Manaslu—is located within 15–35 miles of the Pokhara Valley. Numerous tourists have been captivated by Pokhara’s enchanting beauty for years.
Thanks to the city’s beauty, the international airport is expected to serve one million passengers annually. The airport is built to category 4D standards and has a single runway that is 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) long and 45 meters wide. The airport’s international apron can accommodate up to three narrow-body aircraft with two aerobridge facilities. A 6,000 m2 domestic and international hangar is also present at the airport.
Finally, it is expected that the airport will make significant connections with popular destinations in China and India to help facilitate two of the largest inbound tourist countries for Nepal. Buddha Air has already made plans to fly to Varanasi, and should India approve a western air route; it will also run ATR 72-powered flights from this airport to New Delhi and Dehradun.
Not only will the international airport in Pokhara assist with tourism, but it should also play a large role in international trade.
Curious about what to do in Pokhara once you arrive? Make sure to check out my Pokhara Travel Guide!
International Trade and Export:
With the opening of the new international airport, businesses in the region should be able to increase their exports. With the improved infrastructure in the area, shipping costs should be drastically lower thanks to the reduced transportation of goods to Pokhara instead of to Kathmandu.
The increase in accessibility from international airports in Nepal has already been seen with the completion of the Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) in Bhairahawa. For example, the GBIA exported goods amounting to Rs 3.89 million between July and November 2022.
The ability of the newly built international airport in Bhairahawa to export goods bodes well for Pokhara’s airport as well. Whereas, thanks to the increase in infrastructure, businesses bidding to increase their reach in foreign markets should have an easier time.
Promoting connectivity in Pokhara:
Direct aviation services are being attempted to link Pokhara with foreign cities. Tourism business owners are in talks to launch direct flights from Pokhara to other major cities in the region. With the completion of the international airport in 2023, entrepreneurs in the tourism industry have made calls to connect Pokhara with domestic and international cities.
With this direct connection with international cities in the region, tourists will have the choice to travel directly to Pokhara and lengthen their stay in the gateway to the Annapurnas. This is both good and bad news for the country.
With direct access to Pokhara, people are worried that tourists may forgo the trip to Kathmandu and come directly to Pokhara instead, negatively affecting the tourism industry. Moreover, there have been reports that paragliding in Pokhara may be in danger of being stopped due to safety concerns. This, once again, can negatively impact businesses in Pokhara, which have been making a living off paragliders.
That being said, there are positives about the new international airport coming to Pokhara. As mentioned, it should increase the ability of local producers to engage in international trade as shipping costs should decrease. Moreover, the airport should benefit areas less explored outside of Lakeside as tourists will be able to spend more time in the city and the surrounding areas as they can forgo their stay in Kathmandu.
FAQs: Pokhara International Airport
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the international airport in Pokhara Nepal.
Pokhara’s international Airport was officially inaugurated and opened by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on 1 January 2023.
On January 15, 2023 a Yeti airlines ATR-72 crashed in between the domestic and international airport in Pokhara Nepal. A total of 68 passengers and four crew members were on board the aircraft.
For more information regarding the plane crash, check out my blog covering the history of plane crashes in Nepal.
Takeaways: Pokhara International Airport
Time will tell what impacts the international airport in Pokhara will have on the tourist sector in both Pokhara itself and Kathmandu. For now, foreigners and the tourist sector in Pokhara are excited about the new airport and what it can bring to the region.