KATHMANDU: The much-awaited Gautam Buddha International Airport has been expected to come into operation by March-end, officials said.

Naresh Pradhan, project officer-transport at the Asian Development Bank, told the Portfolio Review Meeting of Asian Development Bank-supported projects in Nepal on Wednesday that the major civil works had been completed and interior finishing of the terminal had started.

“To meet the target of beginning airport operations by March-end, all interior finishing should be completed by February 28,” he said.

According to him, the airport’s runway lights will also be installed by February. “The contractor hired for the second package to install communications, navigation and surveillance equipment has pledged to finish the tasks by March 30,” he said, adding that the target was attainable, but the government needed to conduct stringent monitoring so that project does not stall again.

The airport in Bhairahawa was initially slated to be ready by December 2017. However, fuel and building material shortages due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed the upgradation works by six months, and its operation deadline was revised to June 2018.

Subsequently, a dispute over payment between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali subcontractor, Northwest Infra Nepal, held up work at the construction site for more than six months. As a result, the project deadline was extended many times after the initial extensions.

The project started making rapid progress after the appointment of the late Rabindra Adhikari as a tourism minister.

“Gautam Buddha International Airport under the South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project is a good example of how leadership and improved implementation arrangement can positively impact the progress of a project. It is one of the projects that has met both its contract awards and disbursement targets for this year,” said Asian Development Bank Country Director for Nepal Mukhtor Khamudkhanov.