Drukair will resume domestic flights to Gelephu and Yonphula starting November 11.

Following a government’s decision to provide the airlines with a subsidy of Nu 0.30 million (M) per domestic flight, a test flight was conducted on October 18 at the Yonphula domestic airport.

Drukair will operate the flights at a promotional rate at both the airports. During the period, a one-way flight to Gelephu from Paro will cost Nu 3,570. Round trip for the general public will cost Nu 6,250.

The cost for a one-way flight to Yonphula from Paro will be Nu 4,080 and Nu 7,140 for a round trip. Fare cost for flights from Bumthang to Yonphula and Bumthang to Gelephu will be Nu 3,060 (one-way) and Nu 5,355 (round trip) and Nu 3,750 (one-way) and Nu 6,250 (round trip) respectively.

For students, a one-way trip from Paro to Yonphula will be Nu 2,880 and Nu 5,040 for a round trip. The cost for one-way flight from Paro to Gelephu will be Nu 2,520 and Nu 4,410 for a round trip. The cost will be same for trips between Gelephu and Yonphula.

The promotional fares are exclusive of the applicable taxes and will be valid till February 28, 2018.

Drukair’s CEO, Tandi Wangchuk, said that the airlines would operate three flights a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at both the domestic airports. However, he said that the number of flights would decrease during the ‘wind curfew period’, during which all operations must be completed by 12 noon. “We expect to fly at least two flights every week during this period.”

Wind curfew period in Bhutan starts from February and lasts until mid of May. During this period, the velocity of the wind is generally high with wind shears, restricting the flights from operation for safety reasons.

Tandi Wangchuk said that resuming domestic flights at the two airports would help socioeconomic development of the country, especially in the east and promote the regional balance. “It is a privilege for Drukair to be a part of the government’s effort.”

He said that the government support would be reviewed after six months. If the number of travellers increases, the airline will be able to sustain the operational costs on its own.

“We hope that people will use our service and if we get enough travellers, we will not require the subsidy anymore,” said Tandi Wangchuk. “We are looking to make this sustainable.”

Although the physical capacity of the ATR 42-500 is 48, in the Bhutanese context the carrying capacity is limited by the challenging terrain, high altitude of the airports and shorter runways.

Given the load penalty from the challenges, the ATR will be able to carry around 25 passengers. However, the load penalty is dependent on temperature. Lower the temperature, the higher the carrying capacity. During ideal temperature, the maximum passenger the ATR can carry out of Paro international airport is around 35.

The government also provided Drukair with a one-time additional cost of Nu 7.6M. The amount will be used to set up the necessary infrastructure at the airports such as the Ground Power Unit, baggage tractor, baggage trolleys, ticket printers, baggage tag printers, utility vehicle and counters among others.

Younten Tshedup