Bhutan’s third domestic airport in Gelephu will be launched on October 25, while the country’s two other domestic airports in Bumthang and Trashigang could be ready by mid-October.

Department of civil aviation (DCA) chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk, said that Gelephu airport in Sarpang, will be inaugurated on October 25, and that the national airline Drukair has been notified.

The airline is yet to formulate a schedule and airfare for the Gelephu sector.

Drukair general manager for domestic operations, Namgay Wangchuk, pointed out that, given the similar flight distance of Paro-Bumthang to Paro-Gelephu, the airfare will most likely also be the same.

Drukair charges USD 170 for a one-way ticket to Bumthang, and USD 340 for a return trip.

DCA initially anticipated inaugurating the Gelephu airport alongside the relaunching of the domestic airports in Batpalathang, Bumthang and Yonphula, Trashigang, by the first week of October.  But both these airports are not expected to be ready by then.

Singye Construction, the company responsible for adding one more asphalt concrete layer on to the Batpalathang runway, has not been able to commence surfacing as a result of the Dzonghaglungma bridge in Trongsa being damaged on September 4.  The company expects to begin surfacing work only by the end of this month, and to possibly complete it by October 15.

The company’s CEO, Yangka Dawa, explained that, with the Dzonghaglungma bridge damaged, stone chips have had to be brought from Wangdue, which is a three-day trip, instead of from Trongsa, which would have been a one-day task.  The company requires 300 truckloads of stone ships to surface the 1.2 km runway.  It is transporting the stone chips to Bumthang using 20 trucks.

While a replacement bailey bridge was recently installed, heavy vehicles are yet to be cleared to use the bridge.

But Yangka Dawa pointed out that all other necessary material, like sand and bitumen, along with labour and machinery are on site.  He said that “blacktopping” the runway would take about 15 days to complete.

He added that the damaged bridge has resulted in higher costs for the company.

DCA expects Drukair to operate on the airport before surfacing works are complete.  This is because it has required the Singye Construction to always have in place a temporary gradient to bridge the older and new layer prior to any flight operations.

The Yonphula airport runway is also expected to be ready only by mid-October, according to Dejung Construction, the company carrying out repair work there.

Dejung Construction CEO, Ugyen Wangchuk, said that continuous rain had delayed work until this week.  He added that, if good weather persists, the Yonphula airport runway would be repaired in the next 15-20 days.  The company is carrying out patchwork on a 600m stretch of the 1,300m runway, that did not undergo any repair work prior to launching of domestic air services as a result of budget constraints.

Drukair general manager for domestic operations, Namgay Wangchuk said that seat bookings until mid-October have been cancelled for both Batpalathang and Yonphula.  He said that the majority of seat bookings are for after the second week of October.

Namgay Wangchuk also said that scheduled flights to either airport would commence only after Drukair’s quality and safety department approve operations.  This would require test flights, he said.

Drukair suspended flights to Batpalathang and Yonphula on safety grounds in June-July.  While a joint inspection team had found cracks developing on a 600m stretch of the Yonphula runway, and pebbles being dislodged off the Batpalathang runway, DCA maintained that measures, such as daily inspections and runway sweeping, would ensure no risks to aircraft using the runways.

The surfacing and repair works were awarded, last month.  Total cost involved is Nu 38.5M.  The Batpalathang overlay will cost the government Nu 33M, while repair work at Yonphula will cost Nu 5.5M.

Both companies have until November to complete their work.

Source: Kuensel Online