Despite aircraft and passenger traffic increasing at Paro international airport last year, the department of civil aviation (DCA) is still facing a space constraint to expand facilities, and a critical human resource shortage in the area of flight safety.
Passenger traffic through Paro airport increased by 13.6 percent, last year. In 2011, the airport handled 159,922 passengers, while 181,659 passengers used the airport in 2012.
DCA director, Wangdi Gyeltshen, said that while there are plans to expand airport facilities, specifically, the existing apron or parking area for aircraft, lack of available space is a problem.
He pointed out that the space required is currently occupied by another agency.
DCA chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk added that the issue has been submitted to the government. He said that DCA has requested the government to relocate the agency to an appropriate area. However, the issue has been pending since last year.
The apron can currently accommodate five aircraft at once, according to Karma Wangchuk. National airline Drukair currently has four aircraft. But with Tashi Air planning to lease an aircraft within this year, and Drukair expecting its fifth aircraft in 2014 or 2015, DCA would like to increase the capacity to handle eight aircraft simultaneously, according to Karma Wangchuk. He added that with private aircraft also using Paro airport, apron expansion is a necessity.
Additionally, the space is also required to build a domestic terminal and expand the vehicle parking area, which has already reached maximum capacity, according to Karma Wangchuk.
The department has forecasted that between 300,000–900,000 passengers could be flowing through Paro international annually by 2030. Karma Wangchuk said that the expansion plans are to keep ahead of such demand.
Meanwhile, construction work on the airport’s second terminal building has begun and is slated for a 2016 completion.
The government of India (GoI) is funding the airport expansion. Total GoI funding is Nu 318.7M, of which 235M is towards airport expansion and enhancement of emergency response capabilities, while 83.7M is to improve communications and navigation aid technology.
Besides the space constraint, director Wangdi Gyeltshen said DCA’s “biggest problem” is its lack of airworthiness and flight safety personnel. These personnel are responsible for auditing airlines and ensuring compliance with regulations. DCA has lost such personnel to the corporate and private sector where they are paid significantly more.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) had also raised this shortcoming with the government when the secretary general of the organisation visited the country, last year.
Wangdi Gyeltshen said that the possibility exists that given Bhutan’s low rating with ICAO requirements, it could order a stoppage of flights. He explained that while DCA had attempted to recruit regional experts, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) was not able to provide DCA with the required pay.
He said that the monthly pay approved was usually mistaken by the regional experts as daily pay highlighting the gap. The long term plan is eventually to de-link from RCSC and become an autonomous agency, said Wangdi Gyeltshen.
Currently, DCA will continue to depend on a regional body, COSCAP-SA (Co-operative Development of Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Programme-South Asia) for assistance in meeting its periodic auditing of Drukair and other responsibilities.
Wangdi Gyeltshen said this is a temporary measure and cannot continue. He added that with Tashi Air planning to commence operations sometime this year, the possibility of DCA losing more of its personnel exists. “I cannot stop them,” he said, “we’re in a very vulnerable position right now.”
By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro