Lhakpa Quendren

Gelephu — Drukair resumed its domestic flights to Gelephu yesterday after suspending operations in August 2019 due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the area.

The ATR 42-600 aircraft, with a seating capacity of 40, landed at Gelephu International Airport from Paro International Airport via Yonphula Domestic Airport at around 9:45am. The flight departed at around 10:15am with 12 passengers on board, including a lone passenger from Gelephu.

Cheje Yangzom, a 48-year-old resident of Samtenling in Sarpang, was the lone passenger from Gelephu. She was travelling to Thimphu to vote for the North-Thimphu candidate on the poll day.

“I initially planned to drive to Thimphu. Since the flight operations resumed, my children wanted me to take the flight. And my flight ticket was confirmed two days ago,” she said.

This is the first time Cheje Yangzom travelled by flight from Gelephu. “My sister will come to pick me up at Paro Airport, and I will return by road. Besides several advantages, flight is convenient, especially during emergencies,” she said.

Drukair will operate bi-weekly flights on every Thursday and Sunday, with additional connectivity to Yonphula.

“Except for the charter flights, commercial flights could not resume after the pandemic. Currently, a fully loaded passenger aircraft would not be possible due to the short runway,” said an airport staff member.

The Gelephu International Airport, which had been operating as a domestic airport since May 25, 2015, received an aerodrome certificate to operate as an international airport from the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority on September 16 last year.

The aerodrome certificate may be revoked if the airport operator violates the Bhutan Civil Aviation Act 2016 or Bhutan Air Navigation Regulations 2021.

Sources say that an inauguration ceremony for the commencement of international flights is expected soon, and the airport extension work is scheduled to commence in March of this year.

The flight from Gelephu to Paro takes about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the airspeed. The cost of a flight ticket from Gelephu is around Nu 6,000.

However, some people say that the flight ticket is expensive. Many believe that if the ticket were more affordable, people would prefer to travel by flight over land transport due to convenience.

“Instead of accommodating only a few passengers at a higher fare, it will benefit many more, including farmers, if fees are minimal. This strategy can enable more people to travel by air,”  said a resident.