Land acquisition and construction of a boundary wall are the progress of the once fast-track project as yet
After repeated delays in starting the main work of Khan Jahan Ali Airport in Rampal upazila of Bagerhat, the government has dropped the project from its priority list.
It is rather focusing on the extension of Jashore Airport instead.
In mid-2016, the government had included the airport on the list of fast-track projects for its faster implementation.
But amid the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with repeated procrastination in starting the construction of the airport, the authorities concerned now say that they do not consider it to be a priority any longer.
Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) chief Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman has said Rampal airport is not currently on the list of development projects implemented by the government on a priority basis.
“However, once the Padma Bridge opens to traffic, there will be no alternative to constructing the airport. We’re now working on the extension of Jashore Airport due to growing demand in that region,” he said.
The CAAB chief in October last year had told Dhaka Tribune that the main work of the much-hyped project would begin soon.
Sources at the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry, too, attested to the project being excluded from the priority list, saying that the government had lost interest in the project.
After being initiated under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model and government fund, the project drew the attention of two, Indian and Korean, construction companies, they said.
Of them, the Indian firm was keen to construct the project—but ever since the pandemic unfolded, both companies started showing their reluctance about the project.
All the progress that the project has seen so far is the acquisition of the land required and the construction of a boundary wall, for which one-third of the total allocation has been spent till now.
“So far, we have received funding for land acquisition only. Construction of the airport is unlikely to begin until new funding is confirmed,” a CAAB official told the newspaper, requesting anonymity.
The government initially acquired 102 acres of land to build the airport on a “short take-off landing” system at Foyla near Rampal in 1996 following a demand of the people of the southern region.
However, the construction of the airport remained dormant for a long time for reasons unknown. Returning to power in 2009, the Awami League government resumed its construction.
In 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held out an assurance of constructing the airport as a full-fledged one to be named as “Khan Jahan Ali Airport” in response to a demand by local businessmen and people of the area.
In 2015, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the airport project at an estimated cost of about Tk544 crore. Of the amount, the government would about Tk490 crore while the CAAB would come up with Tk54 crore.
After the Ecnec’s approval, the district administration began work on acquiring 529.85 acres of land afresh for the project. After acquiring the land in Bagerhat, the district administration handed it over to the CAAB on August 17, 2018.
Since then, local businessmen have kept on alleging there has been no significant progress in the work of the project.
What is the airport for?
Once constructed, the airport will play a vital role in establishing fast and uninterrupted communications with the Mongla Export Processing Zone (EPZ), Mongla Economic Zone, Mongla Port and Rampal power plant.
It will also contribute to the development of the country's tourism sector as tourists will find it easier to visit the mangrove forest and other places of interest, such as the Shat Gombuj Masjid in Bagerhat.
The airport will also facilitate sending and distributing relief materials in case of any natural calamities, the proposal adds.
Khulna has never had an airport. Its nearest airport is in Jessore, some 70km away and around two hours' journey from the city.