Aviation: Drukair’s newest aircraft, an Airbus A319 costing at least USD 40 million, arrived at Paro International airport, yesterday.

The aircraft, registered as A5-JSW after the initials of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, will expand Drukair’s fleet to five aircraft, four of which are A319s and one twin propeller ATR-42.

The aircraft is dedicated to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo on the occasion of His 60th Birth Anniversary by the national airline.

The arrival of the new A319 comes a little more than 10 years after Drukair last bought one.As a result, the A319 comes equipped with new technology, the most noticeable being a blended winglet that Airbus calls the “sharklet”, attached to the tips of the two wings.

Besides a fuel saving of four percent, the sharklets will allow A5-JSW to take off from Paro airport with 1,800kgs more than Drukair’s existing A319s.

Given Paro’s altitude of 7,000 feet above sea level, temperature is a factor that determines how much weight an aircraft can take off with. The higher the temperature, the lesser load it can lift off with.

If the temperature at Paro is 19 degrees Celsius or below, A5-JSW will be able to take off with a full load of 122 passengers and fly non-stop to Bangkok.

The aircraft also has two engines that are a more reliable and offer better performance.

Inside, the most visible addition is an inflight entertainment system where drop down or bulkhead screens are available. Currently, only the flight route, position of aircraft, timings and distances are displayed but the airline plans to eventually screen documentaries on Bhutan as well.

Drukair has also placed added emphasis on ensuring viewers know that the airline is a “Royal Bhutan Airlines” by enlarging the font size displayed on the fuselage.

Tandin Jamso denied that this is in response to private airline Tashi Air using “Bhutan Airlines” on its aircrafts, to which the national airline has voiced its opposition in the past.

The CEO said as the aircraft is dedicated to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo on the occasion of His 60th Birth Anniversary and to the Crown, it was deemed necessary to emphasise “Royal Bhutan Airlines”. He added that the same aesthetic change would not occur on Drukair’s other aircrafts.

Drukair and the aviation industry was established following a Royal Charter decreed by the Fourth Druk Gyalpo in 1981. Since then, the industry has become the backbone of the transport and communications links for landlocked Bhutan as a result of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s farsightedness and vision, Tandin Jamso explained.

The new aircraft will replace its leased A319, which it has been using since 2012 and scheduled to be returned by July, this year. Tandin Jamso said that Drukair requires a minimum of three A319s, with one of them serving as a back up aircraft incase of weather or technical problems. He also pointed out that with the airline’s two A319s now into their 10th year of service, minor technical issues were more frequent which could cause delays and cancellations if a third aircraft is not on stand by.

Given the enhanced performance of the new A319, it will be used on the airline’s longer routes such as to Singapore, and for additional and charter flights. Drukair will be flying charter flights to the Indian cities of Ahmedabad and Mumbai later this year.

Following a chipdrel and marchang ceremony, and a thruesel and gogey tendrel, guests of the event were taken on a flight on A5-JSW. The short duration flight took guests from Paro to Bumthang allowing them to view the northern range of snow capped mountains, Punakha dzong and Chamkhar valley, before turning back over Zhemgang and flying over Babesa on descent back into Paro valley.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro