A similar exercise involving all stakeholders was done a decade ago

Four minutes after 2pm, the green airplane model at Paro international airport is in flames. Soon Paro valley is filled with sirens of emergency vehicles arriving at the scene.

While passengers limp out of the plane, security personnel and the fire trucks try to contain the fire. The district hospital ambulance arrives at the scene and treats the patients. The helicopter airlifts the seriously injured to the national referral hospital in Thimphu.

This was part of a full-scale emergency exercise done at the Paro international airport yesterday.

The exercise involved about 500 personnel from various agencies such as Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA), the airline operators, Royal Bhutan Police, Royal Bhutan Army, the dzongkhag administration, hospitals, foreign affairs ministry and Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited.

Officials say a similar exercise involving all the stakeholders was done a decade ago.

The officiating director general of BCAA, Sangay Tenzin, said the full-scale emergency exercise would ensure the adequacy of the response of all personnel involved by the emergency plans and procedures, and emergency equipment and communications when an aircraft accident occurs within the airport boundaries.

Director of Department of Air Transport, Karma Wangchuk, said that with the fast growth of aviation and the country as a tourist destination, a quick response could save many lives during an accident.

“Although we don’t want such eventualities in our lives, we have to be prepared because we don’t know when it will happen,” he said.

He said such training would make everyone involved aware of their responsibilities in case of an emergency. “If we don’t do such an exercise, everyone will run to the accident site and there will be confusion, commotion and injury.”

Karma Wangchuk said the emergency plan manual would be updated after each exercise with feedback from those involved. “As per the emergency response master plan, all agencies have to make standard operating procedures (SoP).”

Observers from international organisations noted the calmness of the personnel during the drill but said the loud noise in the emergency-operating centre could hinder the thinking of the personnel involved.

Chief executive officer of Bhutan Airlines, Phala Dorji, said the personnel would not be as calm during a real mishap as they were during the drill and suggested the exercise be done annually.

Karma Wangchuk said that they expect to conduct a drill and two tabletop exercises every year. “At the same time we will also be replicating these drills at the domestic airports so that wherever our planes fly, our people are prepared for any emergencies.”

He added that the domestic airport managers who were also involved in the exercise yesterday would fine-tune their airport emergency plan manual and start the exercise as soon as possible.

Karma Cheki | Paro