The National Assembly will today endorse the Bilateral Air Service Agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Bhutan.

Minister for information and communications Karma Donnen Wangdi tabled the agreement, which contains 12 articles, for discussion yesterday. The agreement was introduced in 2013.

Members of the parliament discussed the pros and cons of agreeing to the service between the two countries. Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi said that Bhutan already has international flight service to India, Thailand, Singapore, Bangladesh and Nepal. 

Besides making air travel convenient for Bhutanese to the Middle East, the United States and Europe, agreeing to the air service agreement will bring business, the minister said. “This will also help boost tourism,” he said.

Supporting the agreement, Athang Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said it is evident that a direct flight to UAE has more benefits than negative impact. He added that countries in UAE have triple purchasing and spending power, which will help boost the Bhutanese economy.

However, he cautioned that while expanding air service, national security also needs to be strengthened.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that when such important agreements are discussed it is important for the minister introducing the agreement to explain both negative and positive impacts of the service. “I’m wondering why the minister just spoke on the benefits of the air service agreement,” he said.

He added that endorsing this agreement would hamper business for Tashi Air and Drukair. Moreover the size of the existing international airport in Paro should be expanded to accommodate numerous aircraft.

Panbang MP repeatedly insisted lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi to explain the negative impacts and questioned if the government has plans to open another International airport like Paro.

Agreeing to the MP, lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi said that it will definitely impact business for the two air service providers in the country but endorsing and agreeing to the tabled agreement does not mean all aircraft will land at Paro airport.  “We operate international flights to seven countries but only Drukair and Tashi Air’s aircraft land here,” he said.

Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho added that should Drukair and Tashi Air benefit from the agreement, they should enjoy fifth freedom. Fifth freedom is allowing aircraft to pick up passengers from airports in between the destination.

Bhutan will hold a meeting with India government to discuss on the fifth freedom next month. Government of Bangladesh has given fifth freedom rights to Bhutan in May 2011.

Nirmala Pokhrel