International passenger arrivals went down by 86.6 in 2020 

MB Subba

As tourism and commercial flights stopped in March last year following the first case of Covid-19 in the country, the number of international air passengers declined by 86.6 percent last year compared to the previous year.

The annual info-comm and transport statistical bulletin released recently by the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) show that Drukair and Bhutan Airlines together carried a total of only 49,212 international air passengers last year.  This excludes passengers on international connecting routes.

In the previous year, the two airlines had carried a total of 368,023 international passengers.

The international passengers also include those who travelled by relief flights amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the bulletin, the airline industry was the hardest hit in 2020.

The annual bulletin covers statistical data and information covering various sectors under the ministry, including ICT, surface transport and civil aviation.

The loss of international passengers for the Bhutanese airline sector is higher than the international average.  The world on average also experienced a 60 percent reduction in international air passengers, as per the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The government imposed restrictions on international flights on March 6 last year.  There have been no tourist arrivals since.

The number of international air passengers had steadily increased to 368,023 from 127,181 in 2010.

Domestic air services also experienced a sharp decline in passenger numbers due to the pandemic.

A total of 6,509 domestic passengers travelled in 2020, which is a decline of 59 percent from the previous year.  Currently, Drukair is the only domestic fixed wing air service provider due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite a slow growth, domestic air passengers increased from 2,725 in 2013 to 15,906 in 2019.


Surface transport sector 

Despite the pandemic, the import of vehicles increased by five percent last year.

The total number of motor vehicles in the country as of December 2020 reached 112,058 from 106,681 in December 2019.

In terms of vehicle ownership and distribution, 53 percent of the vehicles are registered with Thimphu region, 33.4 percent under Phuentsholing region, 6.6 percent under Gelephu region, 4.9 percent under Samdrupjongkhar region and 2.1 percent under Mongar region.

The total number of taxis increased by 11.6 percent or 601 last year.

Region-wise, the number of taxis increased by 13.8 percent in Thimphu region.  Similarly, taxi numbers increased by 9.4 percent in Gelephu region, 8.2 percent in Mongar, 7.1 percent in Samdrupjongkhar region and 6.8 percent in Phuentsholing region.

The country recorded 1,470 vehicle accidents in 2019, which was the highest in recent history.  But the number of accidents reduced to 811 last year.