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That Paro airport’s runway requires expansion to conform with international standards but is being held up as a result of lack of funds and challenges in acquiring private land should raise some concerns.

Investing in a larger international airport

That Paro airport’s runway requires expansion to conform with international standards but is being held up as a result of lack of funds and challenges in acquiring private land should raise some concerns.

Air traffic has increased significantly since commercial air services began in the early 80s. We now have a total of three companies operating a total of seven aircraft operating at the airport with an eighth expected in May or June.

Both passenger, aircraft, and vehicular traffic will continue to expand.

Compared to flight operations in other countries like India or Thailand, the amount of traffic on a single day at Paro is small. But given the geography which results in requirements like operations being limited to good weather and day-light hours, that small amount of traffic can converge into a few hours resulting in congestion.

This congestion could get worse down the years even with mitigating efforts such as the building of a parallel taxi way, an expanded apron, and a widened runway.

Space is a big problem at Paro airport and expanding it to allow flight operations throughout the day and night would probably require much private land and already constructed infrastructure to be acquired. Any such effort would be daunting to any government of the day.

That is why it is probably time that the government begin putting in place the building blocks to expand one of its domestic airports into an international one.

Of the three domestic airports, only Bumthang and Gelephu would make sense.

Bumthang is a top tourist destination and could serve as an entry and exit point for tourists. Traveling to the east or west or both.

But despite Bumthang’s valley being wider than Paro’s, the same problem would eventually confront an international airport there: limited land as a result of the mountains. Weather could also hinder operations there as it already does during the summer. At most, Bumthang could serve as a secondary international airport faced with the same challenges Paro does.

That is why Gelephu holds the most potential. If expanded into an international airport with the required infrastructure, it could become an all-weather, all-day and night airport for Bhutan.

While our airlines already do not compromise on safety and have displayed this through their many years of operations in such a challenging environment, an international Gelephu airport would mean even safer operations.

Obviously, an international airport at Gelephu would need to be reliably connected by air to the country’s other airports and by shorter and wider roads to the rest of the country, especially the capital city.

The amount of funds required would be enormous. But any good investment eventually pays off, if not now, for the benefit of generations later. Besides providing a constant air-link to our land locked nation, one of the significant advantages of having a large airport in Bhutan would be its ability to compliment regional airports and serve a large number of relief aircraft during any times of disaster, not only in Bhutan but the region as well. We have seen how Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu, the only one capable of handling large aircraft, was affected during the earthquake last year.

The economic sustainability of maintaining a large airport could be a concern. Most airports globally, apart from major hubs, run at a loss according to reports in the international media. But they also say that profitability largely depends on the type of management in place, whether the airport is privately owned or state managed.

Niches can be identified and strategies pursued to make airports more attractive to airlines and travelers. Once Bhutan has its own all weather airport there is no reason why it cannot compete internationally on an equal basis.

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One comment

  1. A country like Bhutan has neither big industry nor big firm
    So how getting funds to develop infrastructures ?

    Your king has an answer “we need devise with hard currency ” And He decide to develop tourism ; and He created the Famous slogan “high value , low impact”
    This how that happens.
    And now , with the article above , about may be GELEPHU building new airport project , the country detain a huge work in perspective .And could create jobs !!

    In fact Bhutan cannot support to have an airport like PARO , unfit for use during night and when the weather ( Wind of afternoon ) is too strong. Pilots operate a visual landing without instruments : they must see the runway when landing ; or the mountains when taking off .

    And Aviation authorities have told us that they fear PARO should lost its operation international agreement for Airlines within few years because the airport do not respect the technical infrastructures qualification rules of international civil aviation organization .

    So , as it is said in this article , GELEPHU could become an all-weather , all day and night airport for Bhutan ; while now it is a domestic airport.

    There is an airport competitor very near when PARO is not on duty because of weather problems : Bogdogra near Siliguri wich accept liners every time . But Inside indian territory .

    This project , obviously , need huge investments . And it is necessary to add a highway road to join easily Thimphu and PARO . .

    Coming back to this highway , it woul be interesting to remind that I have suggested building of a cog railway network linking big towns of the country . And future GELEPHU airport would be integrated in that network .( refer my comment “vehicules number rises despites taxes”).

    In any case this project ( airport and highway ) should be integrated in a huge tourism plan Policy very dynamic and rigorous .I suppose that will be on the agenda of the future Assembly after pooling days of 2018 ? but nowadays time is beginning urgent to research the funds as soon as possible ; and launch the first studies to practically evaluate the needs.

    The economic sustainability must be balanced with the old rule in business : the supply suggest demand ; that mean more you offer comfort and commodities ( international airport with schedules connecting to the time table of great liners landing in DELHI airport ) , more you will get new demand of tourists . Consequently , the coming of occidental tourist would be enhanced . That would be a good thing for the country’s finance.

    While nowadays when main liners land beteween 10 H O’CLOK A.M. up to about 16H P.M. , you must wait all night up to 3 A.M. the day after to check your luggages and ticket to DRUKAIR counter for a flight departure at 7 M.M. !!! . And , on the last moment , a sudden weather process over Bhutan valleys can cancell all flights.

    Although an airport on duty day and night whatever the weather ( instruments landing and taking off ) may make DRUKAIR arrange better connections . And your luggage would be registered up to your final destination in Bhutan or in remote countries of your homeland. Because this airport will respect Civil Aviation organization .

    That is a vast plan running over many years ; and it needs an advertising campain in connection with abroad Tours operators.
    Does the team of Tourism Council of Bhutan is ready to manage or accompany that Policy whom main organization should be the P.M and the GVT Cabinet .

    Although nowadays they spent time to put stamp date , to give number of visas and check the standing of TCB Guide.

    Jewel N° 3 is in a good position for the future when that project will be on the pipes ; i think too to the Young coming generation !

    Let Lord Buddha help Bhutan to develop a so big project!

    jcmignien@orange.fr

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