Kathmandu airport staff try to cope amid chaos

Kathmandu airport staff try to cope amid chaos
Spanish rescue workers searching for survivors with a rescue dog yesterday following the earthquake in Kathmandu. The arrival of many foreign search and rescue teams was delayed by congestion at the airport.

KATHMANDU - The international airport here usually handles 40 arriving commercial flights a day.

With extra flights put on by airlines to clear passengers stuck in Kathmandu because of cancellations after last Saturday's earthquake as well as those flying in rescue teams and supplies, the number has almost doubled to 70.

The airport's deputy director, Mr Tek Nath Sitaula, admits that there is some "chaos" but insists that "it is improving day by day".

Speaking rapidly, he ticked off the problems for the small airport with one terminal building.

"We don't have any prior advance notification of rescue flight movements from abroad, of how many and which countries and how many aircraft. That is one problem," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

The biggest problem?

"We have only nine parking bays," he said. And only three are for wide-bodied aircraft.

Outside, passengers thronged the windows while others marked time, sitting on baggage trolleys or plastic sheets - all hoping to catch a flight out.

A group of Singaporeans who had waited two days finally left yesterday on board one of three Republic of Singapore Air Force planes which landed after being diverted to an Indian city on Monday.

"Many commercial airlines cancelled their flights on the day of the earthquake, and they are now trying to add more flights to evacuate the passengers," he said. "It's very difficult for the airport to accommodate everyone."

There had been angry scenes on previous days when thousands turned up but there were not enough evacuation flights.

Kathmandu's airport was once at the edge of the city, but the capital spread and grew around it - limiting its capacity to expand.

Two new international airports being built at Pokhara and Lumbini will be ready only in two years.

The operations room at the Kathmandu airport has all of two computers. One is being used by the operations manager on duty - speaking simultaneously into two phones while watching the computer and the CCTV feed from the apron showing vehicles scurrying around parked planes.

Despite the stress and occasional harassment from angry passengers, the airport officials remained relatively unflappable.

Outside, a Chinese rescue team arrived, its members in their orange jumpsuits. They stood in a knot just outside the exit gate, with a couple of TV cameras trained on them. "We are waiting for a taxi," said their spokesman.

This article was first published on April 29, 2015.
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