Phub Dem | Paro

As Covid-19 continues to spread across the globe, the aviation industry has been hit hard. However, Bhutan’s two airlines—Drukair and Bhutan Airlines—are flying to bring Bhutanese from abroad home.

Until yesterday, Drukair carried out 30 relief flights, including three cargo relief flights.

Drukair’s flight to South Asia, South East Asia, and the Middle East repatriated 2,459 Bhutanese.

The Chief Executive Officer of Drukair, Tandi Wangchuk, said that after the lockdown, the movement of flights was restricted. “To fly to India, we need to have permission from Nepal airspace, Bangladesh airspace, and Indian air space. We need landing permissions too.”

After the lockdown, the flights were not allowed to take any passengers from the country. “The outgoing flight is empty. But we have to cover the cost.”

The chartered flights usually have two costs–direct and fixed cost. Direct cost includes fuel charges, travel and direct subsistence allowance, navigation, landing, parking, and handling charges.

For instance, the landing cost at Katmandu airport is USD1,400.

Fixed cost includes the overall cost of running the company.

According to Tandi Wangchuk, the chartered flights usually covers direct and part of fixed cost. However, during emergencies, direct cost is calculated as the charge of chartered flights.

Drukair charges for a chartered flight, he said, was reduced by 50 per cent. “The chartered flight cost is what the airline is paying out to the landing airport. There was no profit.”

While some Bhutanese living abroad complain about huge flight cost, the airlines say that the cost might appear high because it is empty one way.

Tandi Wangchuk said that the government also provided subsidy on air tickets for students and monks through Drukair.

Bhutan Airlines has so far operated four relief flights and has repatriated 292 Bhutanese. The relief flight cost about Nu 7 million.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked both Drukair and Bhutan airlines to quote their charge for a chartered plane.

“Depending on the quoted cost, the relief flight is arranged,” Tandi Wangchuk said.

Meanwhile, as per the directives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Drukair plans three relief flights to the Middle East towards mid of March.