Aviation: Private airline Tashi Air released its international airfares and sold its first passenger ticket on Saturday. The airline is planning to fly its first international flight between Paro and Bangkok, Thailand on October 10.
A one-way fare for Bhutanese and Indian nationals flying Paro to Bangkok will cost Nu 11,000, while a round trip is Nu 21,000.
In US dollars, a one-way fare is USD 360 and round trip USD 720 for economy class. It is USD 400 (one-way) and USD 800 (round trip) for premium class.
Infants receive a 90 percent discount, children (33 percent), and students (30 percent).
In the first month of international operations, Tashi Air will also be offering a promotional discount on fares.
“Our fares won’t vastly be different from Drukair and it’s for a number of reasons,” said Tashi Air CEO, David Young. “It’s a very expensive route to operate, everyone criticises Drukair because its fares are so high, but they’ve a lot of expenses, and we’ll have that as well,” he said.
“And secondly, we don’t want to get into a fare war with Drukair, because it does neither company any good if we reduce by 10 percent, and they reduce by 15, and we by 20, and eventually we’re paying people to get on the aeroplane,” he added.
On public expectations that Tashi Air would have in fact created fare competition, David Young pointed out that he was aware of this expectation, but that a fare war would result in Tashi Air losing. “I’ve always said don’t expect dramatically lower fares, because Drukair have much deeper pockets than we do; if we actually get into a fare war, they’ll win and I don’t believe in starting battles that I’m not going to win.”
The private airline will instead attempt to offer better customer services than Drukair. “I’ve a lot of admiration for Drukair, I think they’re doing a good job, but I think one area they’re weak on is customer relations, we hope to improve on that to encourage people to fly with us,” said David Young.
Tashi Air will initially operate direct flights between Paro and Bangkok. It is currently awaiting clearance to fly via Kolkata and Bagdogra.
The private airline is also considering flying to Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Singapore and, in the long term, linking Kathmandu, Nepal to Dubai, in the Gulf. The airline is also eagerly looking at flying to Hong Kong, China.
“We’re aware of the political pressures that mitigate against going into any part of China, but we’d like to point out that Air India itself goes to Hong Kong, Air India goes to Beijing, so an airline like us, why can’t we go?” said David Young. He pointed out that Hong Kong would open up the west coast of the US market, while Dubai would open up the European market.
Flights between Paro and Bangkok will originate in Bangkok as the Tashi Air aircraft and crew will be based there. David Young explained that there is a lack of space, especially hangar space, at Paro airport to accommodate another aircraft. He said that, for the foreseeable future, the aircraft will have to be based in Bangkok. He pointed out that Drukair also bases an aircraft at Bangkok overnight. However, he said that the Tashi Air head office would be in Thimphu.
The airline’s Airbus A320 aircraft will arrive at Paro on October 2. Tashi Air has ‘wet leased’ the aircraft from a Lithuanian company called Small Planet. A wet lease means aircraft, crew and maintenance are provided. It will have a seating arrangement of 150 in a two cabin layout, an economy and premium class.
David Young said the wet lease is for six months, after which Tashi Air will ‘dry lease’ another aircraft. Tashi Air already has some Bhutanese crew, pilots and cabin crew, who will be operating on the wet leased aircraft.
An operator with the tour company, World Travel Service, welcomed the commencement of Tashi Air’s international marketing. He said that the extra seats Tashi Air will create during the tourist seasons have been long required. He said that his company usually has to divert 25-30 percent of clients through Kolkata or Bagdogra. He also pointed out that, with Drukair’s off-season promotional fares, obtaining seats during the non-tourist seasons has also been proving problematic for the past two years.
“It’s taken a long time, it’s not easy, it’s not like setting up a bus service, huge amounts of money involved, huge number of regulations to be satisfied, but we’re very happy we got our first ticket sold,” said David Young.
By Gyalsten K Dorji