No congestion despite four flights landing in quick succession 

Aviation: Travelers can now expect to complete arrival procedures quicker following the operationalization of Paro international airport’s arrival terminal yesterday.

Despite a continuous flow of passengers de-boarding from four flights landing in quick succession in the morning, the arrival hall that can accommodate up to 500 passengers had space to spare.

This is a major real estate upgrade when compared to the former arrival terminal. During similar scenarios when two or more flights land around the same time, congestion would occur at the former terminal and the resulting passenger queue could occasionally even stretch onto the tarmac.

However, the problem was also a result of being able to fit only eight immigration counters in the old terminal. In the new terminal, there are now 12 counters, with further space available to install up to 16 counters.

Clearing each passenger at a rate of between a minute to two, queues did not last very long. By the time passengers from the second flight were streaming in yesterday, only a few passengers from the first flight still remained in queue.

With three conveyor belts instead of only one prior, baggage could also be separated by flight resulting in a quicker time to be reunited with their owners. As a result, the baggage claim area did not become congested with a higher number of passengers continuously exiting after identifying their luggage.

Department of Air Transport (DAT) director, Karma Wangchuk, said that while the rate of flow of passengers was “not bad”, the immediate future would still remain a trial and error period from which to learn.

An immediate change involved altering the queue design from a zig zag pattern to a straight one.

The director said that the customs area will have to be expanded to accommodate more passengers and one more x-ray machine, and that chairs will have to be placed for the elderly in the arrival hall, among others. He also said that the airport is pushing agencies to further improve or speed up their services.

While there were 12 immigration counters, one remained closed yesterday.

“We’re facing an acute shortage of manpower at the moment,” the airport’s chief immigration officer, Damcho Wangdi, said. The immigration division has only 16 inspectors to over see eight departure and now, 12 arrival counters.

“We need at least 20 inspectors who would be working seven days a week,” he said.

However, the immigration officer said that the ministry has agreed to provide the airport with 10 more staff.

The immigration division also plans to reintroduce its biometric system within the next two weeks.

The last time it was tried in 2014, it led to passengers having to spend up to an hour or more in queue. The system was suspended four days into its use.

Damcho Wangdi said that the problem was a result of poor internet connectivity. The division had been using the airport’s internet connection. Damcho Wangdi said that airport immigration would get its own dedicated internet connection by tomorrow.

The immigration department has been using the biometric system in all other entry points to Bhutan.

In the next few months, the airport will undergo a major beautification effort. Parking areas immediately adjacent to the two terminals will be turned into gardens. Currently, new parking areas further away from the terminals are being constructed and planned at the airport.

The DAT is also planning to expand the departure terminal to accommodate more check-in counters and establish three different boarding rooms or gates.

The next major infrastructures that will be pursued in the next financial year include a taxiway and a cargo terminal.

The Nu 342.1 million arrival terminal was funded by the Indian government.

Paro airport handled a total of 268,000 passengers last year. The new terminal is expected to nearly triple that handling capacity.

Gyalsten K Dorji