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Number of flights to be capped

The Paro international airport is getting too congested

Aviation: Given its inability to expand the Paro international airport apron, the department of Civil Aviation (DCA) is considering limiting Drukair and Tashi Air flights.

The apron is where aircraft are parked and unloaded or loaded. The current capacity of five aircraft had exceeded in August. Drukair will be bringing in one more aircraft in March, which means there will be seven aircraft operating to the airport.

With Paro airport, given the terrain, limited to daylight operations only, flights tend to operate within a short time period. This is further shortened during the monsoon and windy seasons when flights are delayed or cancelled.

“There may be times where Drukair and Tashi Air may have to reduce flights,” DCA chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk said. He added that the other option would be to space out the flights but that this would raise another problem for airlines, as they would have to obtain corresponding slots at the international airports they operate to.

In an earlier interview, the administrative officer had also pointed out that some private aircraft are already being turned away.

DCA has been unable to expand the airport’s apron as an Indian Air Force (IAF) camp is located on the area required. Talks to reacquire the area by relocating the camp have been going on since 2008. However, the issue remains unresolved despite discussions reaching the political level.

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

While construction of the airport’s second terminal building, security quarters and a fire station have commenced after the Indian government committed Nu 680M “in principle” for the airport’s expansion in the 11th Plan, the apron expansion and construction of a taxiway running parallel to the runway have not yet begun due to the unresolved situation.

Concerns have been raised that the resulting congestion on the apron caused by aircraft and service vehicles and equipment may eventually lead to an accident.

As a temporary solution, DCA has chosen to demolish a building used for cargo and convert the space into a parking area for service vehicles and equipment. This building is located in between the IAF camp and the aircraft hangars.

Karma Wangchuk said the agriculture ministry has in principle allowed the present BAFRA animal and plant quarantine facility to be used for cargo services.

On whether the camp may be relocated or an alternative solution pursued, the Indian embassy in Thimphu did not respond as of yesterday.

The Indian government also funded the airport’s expansion in the 10th Plan by providing Nu 185M, and another Nu 83.7M to improve communications and navigation aid technology at the airport.

 

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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