Phub Dem | Paro
With restrictions on international flights, air travel within the country is gradually picking up since the coronavirus grounded the planes this March.
The recovery in domestic air travel is a positive development in an otherwise bleak outlook for the aviation industry, although the numbers aren’t significant.
With the pandemic hitting the travel business, Drukair operated only one flight a week to Yonphula. From September it increased to two flights every week.
Except for Yonphula, the two other domestic locations, Bumthang and Gelephu, have been idle.
The flight to Gelephu has been suspended as it falls in the red zone. Even if it wasn’t for the pandemic, Gelephu was a low sector with limited minimum passengers, according to Drukair Chief Executive Officer Tandi Wangchuk.
He said that Paro-Bumthang route used to be a cash-cow with mostly tourists flying. But, with only limited passengers flying to Bumthang, the management has combined and extended an additional flight a week to Yonphula.
Drukair usually operates three flights in a week to Yongphula and Bumthang recorded the highest with an average of five flights in a week.
Previously, during peak season Drukair operated more than 77 flights to Bumthang, Tandi Wangchuk said.
“Without tourists, there are only six to seven flying to Bumthang now.”
He said that domestic flight was profitable in the past years due to tourists.
Besides, the flight was made affordable to the Bhutanese passengers based on cost subsidy.
However, without dollar paying visitors, he said that the company was facing a significant challenge.
The cost for a one-way flight to Yonphula from Paro is Nu 4,905.
Until October this year, Drukair operated 348 flights carrying about 5,380 passengers to and from Bumthang, Gelephu and Yonphula.
Although the domestic flight to Yonphula is steadily scaling up, Tandi Wangchuk said that the number of flights reduced significantly compared to the previous year.
Last year, Drukair operated 1,231 domestic flights amounting to a domestic revenue of Nu 53.74million.
“Although the flights are picking up, the future is still bleak,” he said.