Bhutan mulls Bumthang Airport expansion

Published on : Monday, June 8, 2015

BhutanIf found feasible, the runway at Bhutan’s Batpalathang domestic airport in Bumthang, will be lengthened to accommodate the larger Airbus A319, operated by both airlines.


The runway at Batpalathang is currently 1,200m, and suitable only for aircraft like Drukair’s 42-seater ATR. The runway will have to be extended by a further 800m to allow the 124-seater A319 aircrafts to operate there.


“We are looking at the possibility of extending the runway to accommodate the Airbus A319,” Department of Air Transport officiating director, Karma Wangchuk said. “There seems to be enough space to build the runway.”


However, the officiating director pointed out that the assistance of Airbus expertise would be required to determine if Bumthang valley is wide enough for the A319. “We do not know about the approach and the turning radius for which we have requested Drukair to help us when the Airbus experts are in Bhutan.”


There is also enough land to allow a larger terminal and air traffic control tower to be constructed within the airport. Karma Wangchuk pointed out that the agriculture ministry had provided the department with required land.


On the benefits of having a larger airport in Batpalathang, Karma Wangchuk said that during the tourist seasons, Drukair had to operate as many as three flights a day to Bumthang.


This is because the ATR is restricted to only around 20 passengers despite having 42 seats, given altitude and other factors. If the A319 can operate to Bumthang, such a problem could be done away with to a certain extent, he explained.


However, the primary challenge will be acquiring the required funds for the expansion. Any expansion would also likely take place only in the next Plan.


Tashi Air CEO Phala Dorji said Tashi Air would welcome an extension of the Bumthang runway. He said that if the study finds that the airport is feasible for the A319, Tashi Air would operate its A319s to Bumthang as it is a tourist spot.


Drukair officiating CEO, Rinzin Dorji said that the national airline would also welcome expansion of any domestic airport in Bhutan.

If expanded by 800m to a total length of 2,000m, then Bumthang would have an even lengthier runway than Paro international airport’s 1,900m. This raises the possibility of it also becoming an international airport.


On whether the air transport department is considering turning Bumthang airport into the country’s second international airport, Karma Wangchuk said there were no plans.
Batpalathang airport was inaugurated in 2011.

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