Drukair cites wind curfew period for the suspension; operation will resume next month

For more than two months, the national airline Drukair has suspended its domestic flight to Gelephu.

Flight operations to Gelephu were suspended after operating at government subsidy for three months. After two-years of suspension, the airline resumed the flight on November 11 last year.

This irregular operation has left many Gelephu residents disappointed and residents have given up considering domestic flight as a reliable mode of transportation. One of the residents Ugyen, 47, said it is beyond people’s capacity to keep track of the flights.  “Moreover, we don’t get information on the schedule as well,” he said. “It is also inconvenient for us to buy tickets.”

Residents are not only frustrated with the irregular operation but also with the preference that customers are given. Even when the flight is operational, travellers from Gelephu claimed that they rarely get tickets. The aircraft flies in occupied from Yonphula, with barely any seat available for travellers from Gelephu.

A resident Thinley said that he tried to take a flight several times but he could never get a ticket. “Every time I went to buy a ticket, I was told it was fully taken,” he said. “We’re given the last preference when it comes to issuance of tickets.”

He added that although Gelephu got an airport, residents here has benefited the least.

The last flight that operated to Gelephu was on January 30. Between November 11, 2017 and January 30, a total of 30 flights were scheduled. Of that 21 operated while others were cancelled.

The seven flights in November carried 79 passengers to Gelephu and 71 from here. In December 87 passengers flew in and another 60 flew from Gelephu. The six-scheduled flight carried a total of 85 passengers of which, 38 flew to Gelephu.

Department of Air Transport’s (DoAT) airport manager in Gelephu, Sonam Phuntsho, said that the department did not receive any information when the operation was suspended. As of today, no information has been conveyed regarding its resumption.

“We’ve no problems with the airport, its established and equipped,” he said.

Before it was suspended, the airline operated three times a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, an increased operation by two days from once a week.

Meanwhile Drukair’s CEO Tandi Wangchuk said that the flight suspension has nothing to do with the number of passengers because the flight is operated on government subsidy.  “It is for the wind curfew period that the operation to Gelephu is suspended,” he said. “It will resume by May 15.”

He explained that between February and May, strong wind blows in Paro, which disturbs flight operation after noon. “The operation hour is less and we’re unable to cover up,” he said.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu