The government is going to build an airport at Rampal in Bagerhat to establish faster communications link between Khulna region and the rest of the country in a bid to attract investors for regional development.
The project called Khan Jahan Ali Airport, which would require Tk 545 crore, is likely to be placed before the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) today, according to planning ministry officials.
The new airport would be built in an area where construction of a coal-fired power plant has been underway amid protests from environmentalists over possible threats to the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest.
Speaking on the project, Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the Khulna region has lost most of its traditional industries over the years, leaving a development imbalance between the southern districts and other parts of the country.
As the government is undertaking new economic activities in the region, construction of an airport will leave a positive impact, he told The Daily Star.
However, noted economist Prof Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University said questions remain if the government has considered the possible damages to the Sundarbans during implementation of its development plans including launch of the power plant and a food grain silo.
Both the economists observed that an ecological study should be carried out assessing any possible threats to the Sundarbans before constructing the airport.
A feasibility study has, however, been done by Khulna University of Engineering and Technology on the project in November 2013, according to a proposal of the planning ministry.
Construction of the proposed airport, around 20 kilometres off Khulna city, will start in July this year and be completed by June 2018. The airport will be 20-km away from the Mongla Port, the second largest seaport in the country.
Once constructed, the airport would play a vital role in establishing fast and uninterrupted communications to the Mongla Export Processing Zone (EPZ), Mongla Economic Zone, Mongla Port and Rampal power plant, says the proposal.
It would also contribute to the development of the country's tourism sector as tourists would find it easier to visit the mangrove forest and other places of attraction like Shat Gombuj Masjid in Bagerhat.
The airport would also facilitate sending and distributing relief materials in case of any natural calamities, the proposal adds.
Khulna never has had an airport. Its nearest airport is in Jessore, some 70km away and around two hours' journey from the city.
Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal has recently said the government wants to turn the Khulna region into an economic hub as it lags behind other parts of the country.
He has also said they will construct an airport in the region in order to ensure smooth communications and attract foreign investors.
Earlier in 1996, around 41.3 acres of land were acquired to construct a short take-off and landing airport, but the work stopped later.
Now, around 163 hectares of land will be acquired under the new airport project.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her visit to Khulna in March 2011 promised to build an airport in the southwestern region.