Bhutan’s government-owned airline has adopted a loss-making international circuit that Air India abandoned eight years ago.
Suicidal soar? No, insists Drukair or Royal Bhutan Airlines, not with the global dream riding on a local need – to provide the Himalayan country’s eastern half a faster way to reach capital Thimphu.
AI had in April 2002 launched the once-a-week Guwahati-Bangkok flight with a “viable” target of 60 per cent seat occupancy. Poor demand put paid to the service within 15 months.
“We studied the pros and cons for two years before deciding to launch our Paro-Guwahati-Bangkok flight from October 31,” said Drukair’s CEO Tandin Jamso here Wednesday.
Paro, at an elevation of 7300 ft, is Bhutan’s only airport 58 km from Thimphu.
Jamso hopes the Rs 1.6 billion Drukair, with plans to fly to Hong Kong and Singapore, can sustain its “global via Guwahati” operation unlike AI.
One reason is Drukair’s inter-regional focus with Kathmandu, Dhaka and major Indian metropolises on the radar. Another – more important to Bhutan’s internal affairs – is eastern Bhutan’s communication bottlenecks.
Eastern Bhutan has six ‘dzongkhags’ or districts. Some 500,000 people across these districts have to travel 550-700 km via Assam and West Bengal to reach Thimphu. Drukair is banking on a quarter of the population to fly between Guwahati and Paro.
“It would be faster and more cost-effective for people of eastern Bhutan to travel 90 km from Samdrup Jongkhar (major town bordering Assam) to Guwahati and take the 50-minute flight to Paro than driving on the long and tiresome roads,” said Dasho Tsering Wangda, Bhutan’s Kolkata-stationed consul general.
The 19-year-old Drukair also hopes to cash in on the increasing trend of Indian, European and American tourists packaging Bhutan with the Northeast. “Our flight to and from Bagdogra (West Bengal) is doing well for two years now. This (Guwahati) should too,” said Jamso.