Drukair has again grounded its ATR. Between December 29 and January 28, the grounding of the airliner resulted in cancellation of six international and 20 domestic flights. We are told that ATR42-500 will remain grounded until January 28.

For a country like ours where difficult terrain makes long distance travel arduous and challenging, affordable air travel is the best option. With the opening of the three domestic airports in Trashigang, Gelephu and Bumthang, there has been steady rise in the number of Bhutanese availing of the services. Reliable air service saves a lot of service delivery time along the chain. That is why making domestic air travel, reliable, safe, and affordable is critically important.

In the future, more and more Bhutanese will prefer air travel to land travel because air travel is considered by far the safest mode of transport. We are also increasingly becoming time conscious. This became clear immediately after the first suspension of domestic flight. Reservations were tight for weeks.

It was a technical issue that led to the first suspension. This time round, it is got something to do with engine, we are told, which is a technical issue all the same. Parts are due to arrive after which the flight is expected to resume.

We are told that Drukair is exploring measures to lease ATR 42-600 very soon. That is good news. Drukair through DHI has already approached the government to finance the purchase of a new ATR. More flights would mean that there would be fewer cancellation and less passenger frustration. Domestic flights today enjoy subsidy of Nu 0.3 million per flight. Very soon Drukair will not require this subsidy as our people become more affluent.

What is needed in the meanwhile is reliability of service. And that will happen with more aircrafts than one. The plan should look at how to achieve this. When more and more Bhutanese choose to travel by air, there would also be fewer deaths due to road accidents.