Aviation: It was to a large audience with cameras and smart phones all set to shoot, that Tashi’s new aircraft touched down at the Paro international airport.
Sporting a fish logo and “Bhutan Airlines” printed on its sides the arrival of Tashi Air’s 150-seater Airbus A320 signals its entry into the international market that, so far has been dominated for more than two decades by the national airline, Drukair.
“Our aircraft has arrived,” Tashi Air CEO David Young said. “This is a very auspicious day for us.” Following a marchang ceremony, chief guest Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck and information and communications minister DN Dhungyel inspected the aircraft.
Visitors were also allowed on board the aircraft. Tashi Air’s first international flight is scheduled for October 10, until then the aircraft will be used for training its foreign pilots on operating at Paro airport.
“Just so they are fully conversant with all the problems of the valley,” David Young said.
However, in addition to its foreign pilots and cabin crew, a former Drukair captain and two former Drukair first officers will also be flying for Tashi Air. Bhutanese cabin crew has also been hired.
It has taken Tashi Air more than a year to get its international air service established after it was allowed by the government to suspend domestic operations in June, last year. The company began domestic flight operations in December 2011 after it won the domestic air services contract.
Financial losses being sustained for domestic operations and an inability to acquire loans to start its international services caused the company to suggest a reverse strategy.
The company suggested to the government that it be allowed to start and operate international services first, through which it would then subsidise domestic operations. On agreement that it would recommence domestic operations exactly one year after international services are established, the airline then sold its first aircraft in order to lease the current Airbus A320.
“I think this is a completely different situation, the domestic market we knew was not going to make money, and it was not going to make money for many years to come,” David Young said in response to the possibility of the same situation occurring again.
“In the international market, it will take time, we understand that, it’ll take time to build up the loads,” he said. “Once the loads are built up then it should be economically viable and that’s what our long distance plans are saying, that this is worth doing.”
David Young said since the aircraft would be parked at Paro airport for the next few days, a reduction in parking fees would be requested of the government.
However, he pointed out that as the aircraft would be based in Bangkok, Thailand, once commercial operations commence, parking fees would not be an issue beyond October 10.
Civil aviation officiating director Karma Wangchuk said the entry of one more airline would benefit the tourism industry as a major impediment so far had been the lack of seats during tourist seasons.
He said Tashi Air’s entry would also be good for Drukair in terms of service delivery, as it would provide the national airline a basis for comparison.
Karma Wangchuk also said as the aviation sector developed, it was hoped airfares became more affordable for Bhutanese.
Tashi Air’s fares on its only existing route between Bangkok and Paro are only slightly cheaper than Drukair’s, currently.
The A320 is a slightly larger variant of the A319 used by Drukair.
By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro