Of the three domestic airports in the country, Yonphula domestic airport in Trashigang has recorded the highest number of flight cancellations due to unfavourable weather conditions.

A total of 18 flights to Yonphula have been cancelled owing to bad weather conditions since the national airline, Drukair, resumed its domestic flights to Trashigang and Gelephu on November 11, 2017 to date. The airline operated 53 successful flights.

The domestic airport in Gelephu saw about two cancellations due to weather conditions between November and January. The airport was suspended since February.

About five cancellations were recorded at Bumthang domestic airport due to weather.

Meanwhile, irregularity in the flight operations in Trashigang has left many passengers disappointed.

Unexpected flight cancellations have deterred most of the residents from opting the mode of transport.

“I had an important meeting to attend in Thimphu last month. Given the short notice I was given, I thought travelling by air would be reliable,” said Karma Tashi, a civil servant. “But it was a mistake. The flight got cancelled at the last moment and I missed my meeting.”

Another corporate employee who did not wish to be named said he has given up considering flights as a reliable mode of transportation.

“People prefer air transport for its safety and the short travel time,” he said. “However, if such cancellations continue, it becomes unreliable.”

Following bad weather reports at Yonphula airport, the 30-year-old was left midway in Bumthang earlier this month. “I had just undergone a surgery and travelling by road was not advisable. However, I reserved a taxi and had to come to Trashigang the same day.”

He added that domestic flight passengers are not provided with proper services by the airline. “There are no arrangements made when a flight gets cancelled and we are stranded midway,” he said. “The flight staff leave our luggage halfway without proper information. This is very unprofessional of them.”

It was also learnt that unlike in the past, when flights are cancelled due to weather, affected passengers are no more accommodated in the next flight. Passengers are asked to wait for the next scheduled flights.

The current flight timings to Yonphula had to be accommodated into the normal schedule at a later date on the directives of the government, Drukair officials said.

“Yonphula and Gelephu flights had to be accommodated based on the aircraft availability and within minimum disruption to the existing schedules,” said an official. “This led to the current timings that are not feasible weather-wise, especially at Yonphula.”

Officials said that an extensive scheduling exercise is being carried out to work on a suitable schedule to minimise disruptions.

According to the airline, while every effort is made to accommodate the affected passengers the next day, Drukair has to first ensure that the scheduled flights are least affected.

“Drukair has scheduled operations to various sectors where an aircraft is already assigned,” said an official. “For instance, if the ATR to Yonphula gets cancelled, we have to check operations for the next day and see if we can provide a substitute flight within the operation hours.”

While the flights to Gelephu are currently suspended, the number of flights to Yonphula has also been reduced to two flights a week since March.

Drukair operates flights to Yonphula on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mostly via Bumthang. Given the wind curfew period that starts from February to May 15 in the country, all operations in and out of Paro international airport have to be completed by noon, the airline official said. “Due to strong wind towards the afternoon, it becomes difficult for us in fleet allocation to operate regional and domestic with only one ATR.”

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang