The airport saw a record 15 flights on April 5

Aviation: Paro international airport handled a record 15 flights on the morning of April 5, and had all seven Bhutanese operated aircraft on the ground at one point.

This meant that the airport’s capacity of five aircraft was exceeded that particular day.

In a non-standard aviation practice, one aircraft had to be disembarked on the taxiway between the runway and the apron, and the other disembarked in front of the hangar.

Additionally, a private aircraft seeking to land in Paro had to be told to hold in Kathmandu, Nepal, until space became available.

“We’re in dire need of parking space for aircraft,” department of civil aviation (DCA) chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk, said.

He pointed out that the primary problem, when all seven aircraft are on the ground, was that there was too much movement on the apron, in terms of people, equipment, and service vehicles.

It was also explained that, with one aircraft parked on the taxiway, it was an obstacle for  aircrafts on the apron, as it had to be towed back onto the runway to make way for aircraft that are taking off to also enter the runway.  It then had to be re-towed back onto the apron to allow aircraft to take off.  

Another problem, Karma Wangchuk said, was that, when an aircraft was disembarked on the taxiway or the hangar, passengers had to walk through the apron and in close proximity to other aircraft, which required extra security personnel to be posted, again adding to the congestion.

While Karma Wangchuk did not raise any safety concerns, the CEO of Drukair, in earlier interviews, had expressed concerns about aircraft getting damaged due to movement of equipment and service vehicles in such constrained spaces.

Measures are being pursued to solve the space problem.

From May onwards, DCA will require that the two airlines space out their flights, so that some are scheduled in the afternoon.  Currently, all flights operate in the morning, as it is the windy season and strong cross winds tend to occur during the afternoon.

Bad weather can also result in delays that cause flights to bunch together into the same time period.

However, slot availability in international airports is comparatively harder to get, given more demand, and could prove problematic for the two airlines.  If they are unable to space out their flights as a result of not obtaining different slot timings in international airports, it could result in DCA not approving some of their morning flights at Paro.

Another problem is that the land required for the apron expansion is occupied by an Indian air force (IAF) camp.  Discussions to relocate it to Khangku have been ongoing at the political level since at least 2008.

Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said that the issue was yet to be resolved. “We’ve been discussing with relevant agencies but, as of now, nothing concrete has come up regarding their shifting to Khangku,” lyonpo said. “We’re regularly in touch with them and hopeful that soon they’ll adhere to our request,” he added.

As a desperate measure, DCA has also decided to expand its apron to the edges of the IAF camp, to make room for at least equipment and service vehicles to be parked.  However, this is also subject to government of India (GoI) releasing Nu 680 million for Paro airport expansion in the present Plan.

Lyonpo Dhungyel said that the GoI budget had not yet been received and that the royal government was currently ensuring expansion works, such as on the second terminal building, are continuing through pre-financing facilities.

The Indian government funded the airport’s expansion in the 10th Plan by providing Nu 185M, and another Nu 83.7M to improve communications and navigation aid technology.

By Gyalsten K Dorji