The domestic airport at Yonphula in Trashigang has been certified and is now operational since it was closed in 2013 for renovation works.

The contractors handed over the airport to the Department of Air Transport (DoAT) on June 19.

Along with the improvements of safety and compliance with international standards, the airport also underwent major alignment changes on one half of the runway.

Another major change brought about at the airport was in resurfacing and flattening the runway. The slope of the runway, which was 3.8 percent, has been brought down to below two percent, which is acceptable by international standards.

However, the national airline, Drukair, is yet to resume its domestic flights to the east. DoAT notified Drukair to conduct a test flight soon after the airport was handed over to the department three months ago.

DoAT officials said that they have not received any information on the test flight so far from the airline.

Drukair CEO, Tandi Wangchuk, said that the airline has submitted a proposal to the Druk Holdings and Investment (DHI) on the commercial viability and any subsidy needed to operate the flights to Yonphula and Gelephu domestic airports.

It was learned that DHI forwarded the proposal to the finance ministry last month. The airline is waiting for the government’s decision.

Residents in Kanglung are anxiously waiting for Drukair to restart the domestic flights. A local businessman, Karma Tashi, said that the airport would benefit not only the local commuters but also promote tourism in the region.

“It is difficult to travel along the east-west highway because of the on-going widening works,” he said. “We cannot rely on the southern route mainly because of frequent strikes.”

Sangay Choden, a second year student of Sherubtse College, said that the reintroduction of the domestic flights at Yonphula would cut down on the travel time to a great extent. “Majority of the students at the college come from Thimphu. If the prize of the tickets range from Nu 5,000 to Nu 6,000, most of us would prefer to take flights and avoid the 500 plus kilometres of bumpy road.”

The flight time from Paro to Yonphula is about 30 minutes.

“The expenditure would be almost the same even if we opt to travel by air,” said Khandu Wandgi, a civil servant. “We spent at least Nu 5,000 to reach Thimphu from here. It would be wise to select a journey that would save time and be more comfortable.”

Yonphula airport, which was supposed to be completed by October last year, was delayed because of harsh weather conditions. However, no additional cost was incurred during the delay according to officials from DoAT.

About Nu 218 million was spent in the renovation works funded by the Asian Development Bank.

The runway is 1,460 metres in length. The airport was first constructed in the 1960s by the Indian army.

Younten Tshedup |  Trashigang