Aviation: An air route connecting Bhutan to Singapore via Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, can now be established following a memorandum of understanding reached, last week.

With Drukair currently operating two flights to Singapore via Kolkata, per week, a total of four flights to the island state can now be operated under the new deal.

Following a bilateral air services consultation in Yangon, the Myanmar government has also agreed that fifth freedom rights will be provided to Bhutan from any five freely selected intermediate points and five freely selected beyond points for flights connecting Yangon.

Fifth freedom rights allow an airline to carry paying passengers between foreign countries, for instance, a Drukair or Tashi Air flight originating in Paro, can stop in Kolkata, Dhaka or any three other cities, pick up paying passengers and fly on to Yangon.

The new deal also means that besides Bangkok and Singapore which are beyond points for the airlines, three more foreign cities can now be connected to Yangon, if desired by the airlines.

Prior, only two flights a week between Paro and Bangkok via Yangon was allowed. However, the national airline Drukair had suspended this particular route some years back but has considered recommencing it next year.

But all the fifth freedom connections will be limited to only two flights a week and not exceeding 200 passengers a week.

The Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) was offered a choice of either Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a beyond point.

A Yangon – Gaya, India and Mandalay – Gaya sector was also declared off limits to Bhutanese airlines.

The number of third or fourth freedom traffic rights for flights between Paro and Yangon was also increased from two to five a week.

Third and fourth freedom traffic rights is basically direct flights between two countries.

However, the new deal also provides for unlimited flights with no restrictions on the number of passengers for flights between Paro and any other international airports in Myanmar besides Yangon, like Mandalay and Naypyidaw.

The agreement is on a reciprocal basis which means that Myanmarese airlines will have the same rights if they choose to operate to Bhutan.

The Bhutanese delegation was made up of information and communications ministry and BCAA officials, and representatives of the two airlines.

BCAA director, Wangdi Gyaltshen, said that while the third step to the Air Services Agreement (ASA) revision is a final signing that will occur in Thimphu at a later date, the two Bhutanese airlines can begin operating using the new routes to or via Myanmar immediately.

The director said that the ASA also had to be revised to bring it up to date with certain International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements.

The two sides also agreed that the designated airlines of the two countries can enter into code-sharing agreements.

Gyalsten K Dorji