Squeezing out space for apron expansion

With the IAF camp relocation still under process, Paro airport has to manage on its own  

 Aviation: With a seventh aircraft now operating at Paro International Airport, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) is being forced to expand its apron, despite no headway being made on relocating the Indian air force (IAF) camp there.

The airport’s apron capacity or parking area for aircraft of five aircraft was exceeded when Tashi Air added a second aircraft in August last year.

However, as the IAF camp still occupies primary space required for the expansion, the department will expand the apron on available ground close to the camp. Discussions at the political level to relocate the camp to Khangku, that began in 2008, are still ongoing.

One of the areas that will be tarmacked is where the present cargo building is located near to the airport’s hangars.  This area will be used to store service vehicles.

The other area that will be tarmacked is in front of where the second terminal building is being constructed, and where the army currently keeps its sniffer dogs.  This area is usually used to hoist tents for ceremonies at the airport, such as the welcoming of new aircrafts.  This expanded apron space will be used to park private aircraft.

DCA will also pursue the expansion through a pre-financing facility from the government, as the government of India (GoI) is yet to release Nu 680M (million) it committed in principle for Paro airport expansion in September, last year.

GoI provided Nu 185M for expansion and Nu 83.7M to improve communications technology at the airport in the previous 10th Plan.

Paro airport was constructed by the Indian army in the 1960s.

DCA director Wangdi Gyaltshen said that, for the next 2015-16 fiscal year, the department has also planned a taxiway that will be parallel to the runway.  A taxiway is used by aircraft to move to or from a runway.  The planned taxiway is expected to ease congestion, speed up flight operations and increase the number of flights a day.

However, the construction of the taxiway is dependent on GoI funding.  Wangdi Gyaltshen said that the department had also received directives that no new plans should be submitted until and unless the funds from GoI were received. “So this is the dilemma, if that money isn’t released, there will be no taxiway and congestion will be aggravated,” he said.

During the department’s mid-term review, it was also pointed out that uncertainty about the timely release of the committed funds was affecting ongoing work, such as completion of the second terminal building.  Officials pointed out that work could stall again if funds are not received.

In another move to address the congestion, DCA will be limiting the number of flights from May onwards.

Wangdi Gyaltshen pointed out that the congestion issue does not stem from the number of flights that occur at the airport on a daily basis, which, he admitted, was not many, but because most of the airlines want to operate in the mornings.

Operations at the airport, given the terrain, are limited to daylight operations only, and flights tend to operate within a short time span.  This window is further shortened during the monsoon and windy seasons, when flights are delayed or cancelled.

The airlines also request morning slots, so that they can meet their approved slots in international airports.

However, the situation is expected to improve slightly when Drukair’s leased A319 aircraft is returned later this year.  But there will still be six aircraft operating at the airport.

Wangdi Gyaltshen said infrastructure, like the apron size, has remained the same as when only two aircraft operated at the airport, while aircraft and passenger numbers have been increasing every year.  Paro airport saw a record of almost 239,000 passengers last year, compared to a little more than 100,000 in 2009, when only two aircraft were operating there.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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