Reopening of domestic airport could be delayed by a year
Update: The Yonphula domestic airport in Trashigang will see a major overhaul and reopen in 2016, a year later than the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) estimated earlier.
The overhaul is being carried out to increase safety and compliance with international rules and will cost between USD and 4 M. Works includes the removal of three hills, flattening and resurfacing the runway, possibly also altering the direction of one end of the runway, and the relocation of a chorten, among others.
The airport was closed in October last year for the structural changes, about two years after it was opened.
The changes were prompted after safety concerns were raised by national airline Drukair. It also followed the findings of a study carried out by a regional aviation safety organisation, which recommended resurfacing the entire runway.
DCA chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk said that 18 months will be required for the changes to be completed.
With work on the ground yet to start, the department is currently completing the redesigning phase of the airport.
DCA will tender the structural work internationally in April and expects work to begin by June. The overhaul is being funded by the Asian Development Bank, which requires that any project beyond USD 1m is tendered internationally.
So far around Nu 12m or USD 200,000 has been spent on repairing the airport, which was constructed by the Indian Army in the 1960s.
Karma Wangchuk pointed out that three hills, including two that are located at either side of one end of the runway will be removed to enhance safety. The hills posed a danger given that the airport experiences 90 degree crosswinds.
The runway will also be flattened so that its slope conforms with international requirements. Drukair had pointed out that the runway’s slope was causing long term structural damage to its aircraft.
The possibility of the direction of one end of the runway being slightly tilted is also being explored. A tilt in that end of the runway will allow aircraft approaching the airport to abort a landing, if necessary.
A chorten will also require relocation. Karma Wangchuk said that the department is looking for land to relocate the chorten.
Meanwhile, DCA is also planning to complete constructing a terminal building and tower at Gelephu airport by January next year. DCA will open the airport to scheduled flights after that. Currently it is open only to charter flights. Gelephu airport was inaugurated in October 2012.
By Gyalsten K Dorji