Aviation: Yonphula domestic airport is on schedule to be completed by October, next year, according to the Department of Air Transport (DAT).

Work on the airport, that was closed in 2013, began recently.

DAT director Karma Wangchuk said that at least nine percent of the work has already been completed. This leaves a little more than a year for remaining works to be completed.

The airport is being renovated to improve safety features and compliance with international standards.

One of the major changes being carried out is a realignment of one half of the runway. The half located towards the mountain peak will be realigned slightly so that aircraft on approach have the option of aborting a landing and turning away from the mountain. Currently, the runway runs smack into a dead end created by the side of the mountain.

Another major change is flattening and resurfacing the runway.

Except for only half of its length receiving some patchwork repair, the runway was not resurfaced prior to its opening in December 2011 due to budget constraints.

The slope of the runway, which is 3.8 percent, will also be brought down to below two percent which is acceptable by international standards, said Karma Wangchuk.

The national airline, Drukair had raised concerns that while the aircraft it operated to Yonphula could handle the 3.8 percent slope, it was causing long term structural damage to the aircraft.

Two hillocks located at either end of the approach end of the runway are also being removed. Drukair had also pointed out that if the hillocks were removed, the safety of Yonphula would be improved given that the hill top airport experiences 90 degree crosswinds.

Karma Wangchuk said that a local contractor was selected to carry out the work for around Nu 200 million. The contractor, who has also worked on the Bumthang and Gelephu airports, was the lowest evaluated bidder.

The changes to Yonphula airport is being funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under the Air Transport Connectivity Enhancement project. A total of USD 6.9 million has been provided to improve all three domestic airports. A further USD 4 million has also been earmarked by ADB to supplement the project if required.

However, the department could not acquire enough funds to construct a new terminal building at Yonphula. Karma Wangchuk said the priority is on finding funds to build a larger terminal for the Batpalathang domestic airport in Bumthang.

So far, around Nu 12 million has been spent on Yonphula airport.

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

By Gyalsten K Dorji