|GUINNESS RECORD PROSPECT? – Once operational, Yonphula airport may qualify as the highest of its kind|
Will Bhutan have its first domestic air service by October this year? As far as the civil aviation department is concerned, they have not as yet received any proposals.
Drukair, however, is doing a feasibility study on operating a domestic air service within the country.
Drukair’s managing director, Tandin Jamtsho, said that the present aircraft could not ply in domestic airports because of shorter runways. Operating from a place like Yonphula requires smaller aircrafts and special pilots.
“We’ll have to look into the cost of operations,” said Tandin Jamtsho. The feasibility study would be done by June this year, which he said would determine if Drukair could participate or not.
Tour operators are not too enthusiastic. They feel that there are great financial and operational risks involved in starting a domestic airline. One of Bhutan’s leading tour operators suggested that the ministry could call the tour operators and ask interested ones to operate an airline jointly.
“We’re entering a new market, so we don’t know how viable it is,” said a leading tour operator, whose company did a feasibility study of the helicopter service a few years ago and found it not viable.
The information and communications minister, Lyonpo Nandalal Rai, who had told Kuensel recently that the domestic airline would start from October this year from Yonphula, said that the government would establish all necessary airworthy infrastructure for the airlines.
“It’s up to tour companies or any other interested parties to come up with airline services,” said Lyonpo Nandalal Rai, adding that the service was aimed at beefing up the tourism industry in the country.
“They can tie up with foreign companies and operate. The government will not interfere in their operation,” the minister said.
The minister also said that establishing the required infrastructure by October is well on schedule.
“We’ll float tenders after we obtain cabinet clearance next week,” said Lyonpo Nandalal Rai. “Since it’s an interim measure, the project will be using government funds.” The Asian Development Bank, he added, had committed the fund for airports in the east.
The civil aviation department also said that companies interested in building airports could run their own planes. It will conduct feasibility studies and demarcate the sites and, following approval from the government, they will be handed over to private entrepreneurs. The projects will follow the BOOT (build, own, operate and transfer) module. They will own and operate the airports for the leased period, which they will negotiate with the government.
“In the end, if there is no one coming forward, then the government will have to do it,” said Lyonpo Nandalal Rai. “For now, we’re optimistic.”
Meanwhile, a private tour operator in Thimphu has submitted a letter of interest to the civil aviation department in developing and operating an airport in Bumthang.
By: Tshering Palden