The authority may now focus on its primary mandate as overseer in its new avatar

Aviation: In what should lead to better airport services and stricter enforcement of aviation rules, the information and communications ministry has approved the separation of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) and the country’s four airports.

The airports are currently run by DCA, and its services are also inspected or audited by the department itself, which is a conflict of interest.

For instance, the domestic airports were both constructed by DCA, which then also inspected and cleared two of them for operations in 2011.  A few months later, cracks were forming and pebbles being dislodged from the runways of both airports given shortcomings in construction as a result of budget constraints.

The separation is to allow DCA, which will become the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority, to concentrate on regulating and inspecting the airports and not be responsible for building infrastructure and providing airport services.

The four airports at Paro, Bumthang, Sarpang, and Yonphula will come under a newly formed department of air transport, which will be responsible for the functioning and maintenance of the airports, and to build new ones, if necessary.  Airport functions include providing services like security, infrastructure, fire services, and ensuring required amenities are available.

DCA director Wangdi Gyaltshen said the separation would take place within this week.

“Now, we’ll be in a place to audit,” he said, explaining that, until now, certain tasks originated from the director and came back to the director for auditing. “The likelihood of certain issues being shelved was high,” he added.

The director pointed out that there would be no question of compromising on the standards of services, as required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

For instance, in the DCA’s air navigation service’s division problems, such as lack of qualifications and logistics, currently exist, as per international requirements, but the division is allowed to continue its services, as it still part of the regulatory authority.  However, once it is separated from the regulator, its services can be halted, if the shortcomings reach a high enough level.

The department of air transport will eventually become a corporation.  Wangdi Gyaltshen explained that the government chose to departmentalise the airports to expedite the process towards a complete separation.

Eventually, certain airport services will even be privatised, said the director.

The two new agencies will continue to share the same budget provided to DCA until June.  But in the next fiscal year, the budgets will be separated.  Once corporatised, the airports will depend on income they earn from the services they provide.

Wangdi Gyaltshen said that an analysis has already showed that the airports can already self-sustain financially.

The separation is also expected to significantly improve Bhutan’s Effective Implementation score which reflects Bhutan’s compliance with international civil aviation requirements. Bhutan’s score is currently the lowest in the region with this organisational set up, where regulator and service provider are both one agency, being a primary area of weakness.

Gyalsten K Dorji