Air force camp makes way for airport expansion

Aviation: In what should solve space constraints being faced at the Paro international airport, the Air Force Element (AFE) camp of the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan, will relocate to another area within the airport premises.

Air transport director, Karma Wangchuk, confirmed the latest development.

“The whole camp will be relocated in a phase wise manner,” he said.

The AFE camp will be relocated to an area that has been reclaimed from the Pa chu behind the airport’s hangars.

While details on the time frame for relocation are expected to be worked out today between the Indian embassy and the foreign ministry,it is expected that one section of the camp will complete relocation by the end of August and the remaining within a period of one year.

Karma Wangchuk said that the first phase will involve one half of the camp temporarily relocating to a building that was recently completed to house air transport security personnel.

Once the temporary relocation is completed, the department will expand the airport’s apron towards the north of the airport, in the direction of the hangars.

“We’re hoping that by end of august, at least that area, AFE will be able to hand over to us so that we can immediately start apron expansion work,” Karma Wangchuk said.

The air transport department is attempting to complete the airport’s second terminal in time for a November inauguration.

This will also require that the extended part of the apron be ready by then. “What is urgent is the apron because we’re trying to complete the terminal before November,” Karma Wangchuk said.

The expansion is expected to ease congestion problems by allowing three more aircraft parking bays. The airport’s current capacity of five parking bays is already exceeded with seven aircraft currently operating out of Paro airport.

The congestion when all aircraft are simultaneously on the ground at the airport has resulted in non-standard practises such as boarding and de-boarding passengers and cargo at the hangar, and towing aircraft onto the runway to make way for outgoing or incoming aircraft.

The congestion also caused the airlines to raise safety concerns that a mishap could occur with the high number of service vehicles and equipment moving around on an already congested apron.

A building that is used for cargo and located between the airport and hangars will also be demolished. Cargo services will be temporarily shifted to the quarantine facility used by the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority until a new cargo terminal is constructed. The government has already approved the budget for a cargo terminal for the current Plan.

Once the new AFE camp is constructed, the remaining section will relocate, and the second phase of expansion will proceed.

Karma Wangchuk said that the vacated area will then be used to construct a terminal building for domestic flights and a car park.

The air transport department has proposed that the new AFE camp be built under the Project Tied Assistance of the Indian government, which would mean that while the Indian government will provide funding, the department will be responsible for constructing it. However, these details are yet to be finalised and are expected to be worked out today.

Karma Wangchuk said that he is thankful for the AFE’s understanding and happy that expansion plans can now proceed.

Discussions between the two governments to relocate the AFE camp have been going on since at least 2008.

A significant development occurred in May, this year, when the Joint Secretary (North) of the Indian external affairs ministry, Abhay Thakur, told Kuensel that an alternative location for the camp could be agreed upon.

Karma Wangchuk added the department is also hopeful that the budget committed by the Indian government for expansion can now be released by the Indian government. The Indian government committed Nu 680 million,  in principle, in September, last year.

Once released the department will begin work to construct a taxiway that runs parallel to the runway. The taxiway is expected to allow more flights to operate in a day.

The Indian government also funded expansion of the airport in the previous 10th Plan. It provided Nu 185 million for expansion works and another Nu 83.7 million to improve communications and navigation aid technology.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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