The second scheduled flight from the Yonphula domestic airport yesterday was cancelled after a fire engine, a safety requirement for flight operations, got stranded in a roadblock along the Trashigang-Kanglung highway.

A massive landslide below Rongthong, some 13km from Kanglung towards Trashigang, had stranded several vehicles including the fire engine that was en route to the Yonphula domestic airport from Trashigang.

According to airport officials, the flight had to be cancelled since the fire engine couldn’t make it on time at the airport.

Airport manager, Tshueltrim Drakpa, said that as per international civil aviation organisation’s (ICAO) regulations, the operation of flights was not possible without adequate safety measures at the airport.

“There was no problem with the aircraft. We had to cancel the flight because we could not get the fire engine to the airport on time,” he said. “As per the protocol, it is mandatory to have all the safety provisions in place during flight operations.”

Tshueltrim Drakpa said that almost 90 percent of the procurement works of necessary equipment including a fire engine for the airport is completed. “We are supposed to get a fire engine by the end of the month. For the time being, we are using the fire engine from the Royal Bhutan Police in Trashigang.”

He said that another flight is arranged for the passengers today. Also for those who wanted to cancel their tickets, a full refund was guaranteed by the airlines.

However, passengers flying from the airport to Paro and Gelephu were not happy with the flight cancellation.

A businessman from Phongmay, who was on his way to Paro with his expecting wife, said that the airport should have arranged all the required facilities before resuming the flight. “The landslide is unpredictable but the fire engine should have been there few days before the scheduled flight.”

The 27-year-old businessman said they are already late for the check-up. “We don’t even have a place to stay over tonight and going back is not an option since we don’t own a car.”

The couple had reserved a taxi paying Nu 6,000 from Phongmay to Yonphula. They had to trans-shift because of the roadblock. “But we had to pay the full fare. The amount we paid to get here is even more than the ticket price.”

Shongphu Rinpoche, who was also supposed to fly to Paro, had to be carried for about 30 minutes to reach the other side of the roadblock. The 90-year-old Rinpoche was on a medical trip to Thimphu.

“Fearing that we might miss the flight, we rushed through the forest carrying Rinpoche on the back,” an attendant of the Rinpoche said. “After all the struggle we reached here only to find that the flight was cancelled.”

Some passengers, who had come from places like Rangjung and Bidung, said that going back would cost them almost three times the price of the air ticket. Without any lodging facilities in Kanglung, passengers said that the next option was to return to Trashigang.

A total of 13 passengers were bound for Paro from Yonphula via Gelephu. One passenger was travelling to Gelephu. There were nine incoming passengers from Paro to Yonphula via Gelephu.

Due to the cancellation of the flight, the ATR 42-500 returned to Paro from Gelephu.

Meanwhile, the first scheduled flight to Yonphula domestic airport since the airport was closed for renovation works in 2013 resumed on November 11, coinciding with the birth anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth King.

A total of 16 passengers flew to Yonphula and 10 were bound for Paro and Gelephu.

Passengers at the Yonphula airport return after being informed about the flight cancellation 

Younten Tshedup | Kanglung