An airport with potential

With mounting losses, the national airline has informed the government that it will stop flying to Gelephu domestic airport from next month.

Once again, the airport will fall silent except for the occasional chartered flight.

Periodically, it will still serve as a helipad for the two helicopters, but a very expensive one. At least Nu 234 million was spent to build it.

Drukair began scheduled services to the airport only because the government directed it. There was not enough traffic to Gelephu. This comes as no surprise. Any further directives to continue the service would be illogical even if there is a government subsidy provided.

In contrast, Batpalathang domestic airport in Bumthang is a busy place. While road widening and therefore poor road conditions on the East-West Highway is one reason for the increased air traffic, Batpalathang airport is in the centre of cultural attractions contributing to high tourist traffic. Sometimes three flights a day to Bumthang are conducted. At times, it is hard to get a seat as well. It is hoped that the government is considering further investing in the airport so that rising passenger demand can be met.

When it comes to Gelephu, there is a need for further development of tourist attractions and associated infrastructure such as hotels, for both local and international tourists.

Once these are in place then we can expect traffic to Gelephu to increase.

While some may say that the airport is a white elephant, they maybe right in the short term. But in the long term, Gelephu airport’s potential is sky high. With a dry port and a free trade zone in the works in Sarpang, businesspeople travelling to Gelephu could provide the traffic an airline needs to sustain.

Besides that, if the airport is expanded, it could serve as a back up airport for both the airline’s larger aircraft when bad weather prevents them from landing in Paro. This would result in significant cost savings for both airlines.

Eventually, the airport could even become an all-weather and 24-hour international airport once there is enough traffic.

The potential is there but planning and action need to follow.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    If one wants to advocate the benefits of an airport at Gelephu, it’s appropriate that one mentions the dry port and free trade zone in works at Serpang. Cost effective access to aviation fuel is another thing to consider with Gelephu airport having a strategic advantage with its location. Improvement in the air passenger traffic in the Paro-Bumthang sector is a good news for domestic aviation. But, even that business will need access to aviation fuel. Along with the fuel prices, payments towards the service of fuelling at the airports need to be factored in.

    Air freight transportation is another market that needs to be looked at and Bhutan being a low volume market, certain commodities may be suitable for air freight. Once again, if the future road network presents a good connectivity from Gelephu to both Western and Eastern Bhutan…further transportation of cargo by road presents some cost effective opportunities.

    And even when we consider chartered air services both in the domestic and international routes, cost effective refuelling to be available locally can make a difference even for the aviation business models. When we consider air transport for freight and even passengers, flying in and out from Gelephu can cut short the distance a bit compared to Paro in certain sectors. The challenges for air traffic control for any future night landing and take off facilities need to be looked at considering different airport locations. So it’s true that Gelephu airport has good potential. It all comes to how government of Bhutan plans to open up the southern economy in short and long future.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply