A draft master plan of the airport upgrade is ready 

Nima | Gelephu

Work is underway to upgrade Gelephu domestic airport into an international airport. A feasibility study, soil testing, and other required technical assessments have been completed.

A consultancy firm from Japan, in collaboration with a local consultant, has completed the required studies.

The draft master plan of the airport upgrade is ready, according to the officials from Gelephu domestic airport.

With only one international airport in the country, airlines have to incur heavy losses while diverting flights, especially during bad weather conditions that make landing at Paro International Airport difficult.

The second international airport in Gelephu is expected to  serve as a solution to the problem.

Gelephu Domestic Airport Manager, Sonam Phuntsho, said the airlines will be able to divert their flights to Gelephu. 

“If we can receive the diverted planes here, we will be able to do some cost-saving. Today, airlines incur big losses when flights get diverted. The money would remain in our country,” he said.

He added that there is no provision to receive flights in times of disaster with only one international airport in Paro. It’ll have a bigger terminal for passenger and cargo planes, according to the official.

“The airport will be mainly used for cargo planes. Once the land replacement and compensation projects are completed, we’ll be able to start working on the expansion work,” said Sonam Phuntsho.

The land replacement and compensation for the landowners whose land falls in the extended areas are almost finished. The related work on Gelephu thromde side is complete.

More than 40 landowners took part in the land replacement lucky draw held in Sarpang on October 25. More than 120 affected landowners will be given substitute land within Samtenling gewog.

While a few landowners were doubtful about the land replacement, the majority supported the land replacement plan for the airport extension. The land replacement and compensation works are expected to finish by December.

The domestic airport currently spreads over 500 acres of land in Samtenling gewog. Once the extension is completed, the airport will occupy more than 700 acres of land in Samtenling.

Domestic flight operation from Gelephu was suspended in August 2019, after Sarpang-Gelephu was identified as a high-risk area in the wake of increasing Covid-19 cases. The people moving out of Sarpang had to undergo mandatory quarantine.

The single-story traditional building that houses both the departure and arrival terminal, an office for the airport, and the Druk Air office is silent. The runway ahead of the block has remained idle for the past two years.

“It was not possible to operate the flights from here, having to stay in mandatory quarantine. There were risks of officials coming in contact with the travellers while working,” said airport officials.