Aviation: In an attempt to convince the government that non-pressurised aircraft can safely fly in Bhutan, a Czech manufactured aircraft has been brought to the country to demonstrate its capabilities.

Non-pressurised aircraft are not allowed to fly in Bhutan for safety reasons.

However, while the Czechs intended to carry out a demonstration flight to Bumthang and Sarpang for the information and communications minister and aviation officials, yesterday, low hanging clouds and rain prevented the aircraft from taking off from Paro airport.

The Czech ambassador to Bhutan, Miloslav Stasek, who was also going to be onboard, said that the demonstration flight will take place this morning instead, weather permitting.

If bad weather is still a factor, the demonstration flight may be limited to only a few flights around the Paro valley.

However, during a pre-flight briefing, a representative for the aircraft manufacturer, said that the 19-seater twin propellor Let L-410 Turbolet is suitable for flying conditions in Bhutan. He stressed that an aircraft that is non-pressurised can safely operate in Bhutan.

“Pressurisation is a thing of comfort, not a thing of safety,” he said. “Even if the aircraft is not pressurised … safety is not limited by this.”

The representative while acknowledging that a pressured cabin would increase comfort also pointed out that for short duration flights of one hour or less, it is not necessary to have a pressurised aircraft. He said that passengers would not be affected as the flight path would usually include ascends to high altitude and descends to low altitude. He added that passengers would not be affected for up to 30 minutes at high altitude.

In Bhutan, the aircraft would fly through the valleys but also be capable of flying over some ranges, he said.

It was also pointed out that the company recently sold two L-410s to Nepalese airline, Goma Air, which operates in similar conditions.

In fact, the Czech team had brought a Goma Air L-410 piloted by Nepalese pilots to conduct the demonstration flight. The aircraft was brought in at the cost of the Czech government.

Another advantage of operating the 19-seater, the representative said would be a lower operating cost for the airline. Compared to the ATR 42-500 used by national airline Drukair, the representative said that operations would be cost effective.

Currently, the ATR 42-500 is subject to load penalties that allows only half of its 48 seats to be filled during domestic flights. The airline recently also said that operation of the ATR is not cost-effective.

Information and communications secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji said that the two airlines have suggested to the government that allowing unpressurised aircraft be considered.

While the secretary did not say whether the restriction on unpressurised aircraft would be lifted, he pointed out that the government is aware that the 6-8 seater Pilatus that was operated by Tashi Air was too small, while the ATR 42-500 is too big for domestic operations in Bhutan. He said a 18-19 seater aircraft would be suitable for Bhutan.

Unpressurised aircraft with that number of seats like the Dornier 228, Twin Otter, and now the L-410 have been operating in Nepal. These aircraft would not be subject to load penalties as severe as that of the ATR’s.

However, such aircraft would be subject to weather conditions, especially low-hanging monsoon clouds, as demonstrated yesterday.

Meanwhile, ambassador Miloslav Stasek, said that ever since diplomatic relations with Bhutan were established in 2011, the two countries have been collaborating in civil aviation. Two Czech pilots have been flying for Drukair for the past four years. A Czech team also visited the domestic airports and provided recommendations to the government.

He said that the Czech republic is aware that Bhutan wants to improve connectivity and boost tourism, especially to the eastern part of the country.

“Which is why we took this initiative and offered this aircraft to the government,” he said.

The ambassador also pointed out that the number of Czech tourists to Bhutan is increasing annually and that more tourism could be promoted by having Czech aircraft here.

The base price of the L-410 is USD 5.5 million. Around 1,200 of the aircraft have been manufactured since the 1970s.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro