KATHMANDU: The government has started work to upgrade two airports in the eastern region to international standard to allow cross-border flights to Bangladesh and India.

According to Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai, Bhadrapur and Biratnagar airports will be made regional international airports from where services will operate to Saidpur Airport in Bangladesh. Bhadrapur or Biratnagar to Saidpur is a 20-minute hop by plane.

Saidpur is one of the most important economic zones in Bangladesh. In 2018, the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry of Bangladesh started work to upgrade the airport to international class.

The 1,800-metre runway will be lengthened to 3,700 metres, making it one of the longest runways in Bangladesh. Two years ago, a joint team of Nepal’s Foreign Ministry and the Nepal-Bangladesh Chamber of Traders studied the possibility of establishing air links from the closest border point.

Saidpur to Banglabandha is 144 kilometers. Banglabandha is a major inland port in northern Bangladesh established to provide a trade link with India, Nepal and Bhutan. The three nations are separated by 52-kilometre strip of Indian territory known as Siliguri Corridor. Across the border from Banglabandha lies the Indian town of Phulbari.

Saidpur Airport manager Shahin Ahmed said that the airport would be upgraded soon to connect Nepal, India and Bhutan. “The government has accorded priority to upgrade the airport to begin flights to the neighbouring countries; but we are not sure of the operation date,” he said.