Staff Reporter 

Inspired by a concept commanded by His Majesty The King, Paro International Airport has been transformed into a national aviation facility with a unique identity. Visitors flying into the folds of the Himalayas are introduced to a Bhutan that balances the best of tradition and modernity and an experience that symbolises a people in change.

In the age of air travel, when nations around the world invest funds and expertise in their airports for service, pride, and prestige, the Paro International Airport assumes a class of its own. It is an exhibition of Bhutanese capability and talent, offering a melded image of an airport, a garden, an art gallery. The concept is an experience of hospitality served in an exquisite setting which that merges into the pristine landscape that is Bhutan.

The airport complex conveys a blend of culture, with paintings and photographs, and service improved by technology. The interior is revamped with details like tasteful signage, boutique shops, and new furnishing, enhanced by a sophisticated range of spotlights, overhead and wall lights. The interspace is styled in home décor and the outside car parks manicured into lush gardens.

A special feature in the airport is a Children’s corner called the Gyalsey Happy Brush Corner where visitors are encouraged to paint mounted traditional masks, postcards, and canvases as well as personal stamps using traditional Bhutanese art materials.

More than the structural and visual uplift of the airport, however, there is a sense that the 1,000 plus employees of the 28 agencies based at the airport are motivated to upgrade the work culture and refine their services. The stimulation for what is obviously a dramatic change in output and morale among the airport staff comes from the fact that the new energy is inspired by His Majesty The King’s encouragement for all Bhutanese to make every effort to achieve their best.

In recent years, there is a growing sense of urgency in the Royal advice to Bhutanese students, professionals, planners and implementers that they must strive to be the best among the best, not just in Bhutan, but in the world. Mediocrity is not an option.

Paro International Airport has been able to translate one aspect of a Royal vision for Bhutan. As soon as the young artist community who form the Voluntary Artists’ Studio of Bhutan (VAST) received the command VAST’s leader and mentor, Kama Wangdi and about 60 artists rolled up their sleeves and made the airport their home. Most artists below 30 years, worked round the clock with “Azha Kama” and, in about three years, transformed the airport into what has become the largest art gallery and exhibition space in the country.

The display of evolving Bhutanese art proves an important point repeatedly emphasised by His Majesty The King. Bhutanese youth have the talent and the capability to realise their imagination. As further encouragement for the artists, art lovers and supporters can connect directly with the artists by scanning the painting or photograph they like through a QR code.

It is also clear that a beautiful Paro airport is not the final stage but the beginning of a new era in Bhutan’s aviation industry. It is a good example of Bhutan making creative us of the Covid-19 crisis to prepare for the future. The Department of Air Transport has been stimulated to step up airport services which includes a completely paperless system that offers an easy trip through formalities like immigration and customs and baggage clearance.

The spirit and energy behind the transformation of Paro International Airport was Druk Air’s Chief Pilot, Yab Dhondup Gyaltshen, who took up the initiative with passion. Yab Dhondup Gyaltshen explains that Druk Air and the Bhutanese airline industry was picking up and reaching its peak when the Covid Pandemic hit the world. Bhutan took advantage of the Covid-forced break to revamp the airport infrastructure and aesthetics and would now focus on training the staff who were already showing enhanced efficiency and professionalism and high morals.

The Paro initiative was achieved with minimal external resources and with all the agencies working together. “What we have learnt is that given the right inspiration everything is possible.”

His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen graced the formal inauguration of Druk Air’s fifth aircraft – A5-JKW – on October 12. After a detailed tour of the transformed airport, Their Majesties congratulated the airport staff for a job well done. One teenage artist summed up the sentiments of the overjoyed artist community: “It was a dream come true.”