Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority and Department of Air Transport are the split halves

Aviation: In a significant development for the aviation industry in Bhutan, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) was split into two new agencies, yesterday.

The department, established in 1986, was divided into the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) and the Department of Air Transport (DoAT).

BCAA will serve as a regulator and oversee the two airlines and DoAT.  The country’s four airports will be operated and managed by DoAT.  The separation means that a proper check and balance system will now be available in the aviation sector.


“This is a historic event,” BCAA director Wangdi Gyaltshen said at the separation ceremony held in Paro. “A new chapter in the history of aviation has been opened.”

He pointed out that the need to separate the erstwhile Department of Civil Aviation’s regulatory and service provision functions had been raised as early as 2006 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), as the dual function gave rise to a conflict of interest.  Since then, several experts and studies had also recommended separation, but the complexity of such a move prevented it from occurring, he said.

Wangdi Gyaltshen also said that a recent two-month study by the government confirmed the need for separation, and that the Royal Civil Service Commission had also prioritised the aviation sector in its latest organisational development exercise.  As a result, the BCAA will be receiving 18 new professionals but, most importantly, will also be able to pay two of these professionals at the market rate.

The two are a flight safety expert and an airworthiness expert.  BCAA has been allowed to pay them, on a contract basis, Nu 400,000 per month and Nu 125,000 per month respectively.  This is to prevent a trend, that began in the 90s, of the government training such experts, critically required for a regulator, only to lose them to either of the two airlines where they are paid such salaries.

Despite the rapid expansion of the aviation industry in the past few years, the agency has been manned by only one qualified airworthiness officer and one flight safety officer.

However, despite the higher pay now available to BCAA, it will still have to find two professionals to fill the two critical posts.

On whether the 16 other professionals that will be provided to BCAA will finally solve its human resource shortcomings, Wangdi Gyaltshen clarified that not all of them would have the necessary qualifications required by ICAO. He said that the next step would be for BCAA to look for funds to send them for training. He added that BCAA had three airworthiness officers, recruited as fresh graduates in 2012, who had still not received the mandatory two-year training due to lack of budget.

It was also pointed out by the director that, in the aviation industry, recurrent trainings are required for licenses to be kept valid but that, in Bhutan, even sending personnel for the first training was a challenge.

Despite the challenges, BCAA will commence its regulatory function immediately, according to its director.

For the new air transport department, its primary challenges will be obtaining budget to construct or develop infrastructure and recruit qualified persons to fill slots in security, fire fighting, air navigation services, aerodrome inspection, and engineering, among others.

These shortcomings are all likely to be raised by BCAA as the mother agency has been bifurcated.

However, air transport officiating director, Karma Wangchuk, said that, while Bhutan, as a signatory to the Chicago Convention, is required to abide by international regulations, given certain circumstances, some exemptions can be made by BCAA.

For instance, he said that the geographical terrain around Paro airport did not allow certain internationally required distances between runway and infrastructure to be maintained.  As a result, the regulatory authority in Bhutan is granted an exemption on this requirement.

Karma Wangchuk said that, if safety was not compromised, exemptions could be applied for from ICAO for certain current shortcomings.

But he also said that DoAT would comply with all BCAA requirements, and the ultimate goal was to at least meet the minimum requirements of ICAO.

Meanwhile, Karma Wangchuk pointed out that, in order to address congestion issues at Paro airport, the departure lounge had been expanded to cater to three simultaneous flights from one, which means at least 300 passengers.

A new parking space for 100 vehicles has also been constructed, which increases the airport’s capacity to about 200 vehicles.

It was also pointed out that the new terminal building is expected to be completed by early next year.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro