Friday, 30 September 2011

Bhutan - His Majesty assures help

Doteng & Tsento, Paro 30 September, 2011 - His Majesty the King visited the gewogs of Tsento and Doteng in Paro yesterday, to examine the extent of damage caused by 18 September earthquake.

His Majesty spoke to residents of Tsento and Doteng, and also listened to their concerns and needs, and urged residents to share their personal experiences during the earthquake. Paro dzongkhag has reported more than 2,100 houses affected by the earthquake, the highest number of any dzongkhag.

“I can’t tell you not to worry,” His Majesty said. “However, I assure you that we, the government, people and king, will work together to restore your lives.”

His Majesty said that he was aware that lack of labour caused by rural to urban migration, and the upcoming harvest season will conflict with repair efforts. His Majesty assured those affected and requiring assistance that the army will be dispatched to aid and reconstruct homes and be provided necessary finances.

Once repair and reconstruction works commence, His Majesty said that he would return periodically to inspect the effort.

During the visit to the two gewogs, His Majesty also entered to inspect some houses that had been deemed too risky for inhabitation.

The head of one household, Kipchu, 54, said the happiness and gratefulness he felt would pass on to his next life by the royal visit. Kipchu, and his family of seven, live in a makeshift structure roofed with tarpaulin, next to their severely damaged house. Kipchu said His Majesty had told him and his family that they would have a home again.

During the interaction with the people of the two gewogs, His Majesty also pointed out that earthquakes are unpredictable and could happen at any time, ranging anywhere from years to days. His Majesty said that the best preparation is to have well constructed and sturdy houses built.

His Majesty the King also pointed that a positive aspect of these tragedies is that “we are all learning from these experiences, and getting more prepared and better skilled to deal with these disasters.”

While saddened by the damage caused His Majesty said, “It warms my heart to see the whole nation, the government and the people working together.” His Majesty added, “We rejoice together, we grieve together.”

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Bhutan - More than 3,400 houses damaged

UPDATE: The number of injured from the earthquake on Sunday has risen to nine. The quake damaged more than 3,400 houses, 12 dzongs, 220 other historical monuments and 63 education centres.

The earthquake also damaged 20 Gups offices, 15 RNR centres and a hospital and 11 Basic Health Units.

Of more than 3,400 houses damaged as of today, 1,491 were reported in Paro.

The Ta Dzong or the National Muesuem in Paro suffered minor damages. 52 lhakhangs and 19 chortens were also damaged in the dzongkhag.

In the capital Thimphu, the 6.9 magnitute earthquake caused numerous cracks to the Tashichhoedzong. The Utse of Lingshi Dzong and the Dungkhag office were completely damaged while half of the Lam’s residence collapsed. Three lhakhangs in Thimphu have also been damaged.

In Punakha 544 houses were damaged. The Puna Dewai Chenpoi Phodrang and the Talo Dzongs suffered numerous cracks. Besides, 30 lhakhangs, 11 chortens, nine educational centres, three Gup’s office, a basic Health Unit and a RNR centre have been damaged.

478 houses were damaged in Wangduephodrang. The Dzong and the Nyzergang Lhakhang developed numerous cracks.

31 lhakhangs, seven chortens, 25 educational centres, six Gup’s offices, five RNR offices and two Basic Health Units suffered damages.

Haa reported the maximum number of injuries. Of the eight injured in Sunday’s quake, four of them are undergoing treatment at the National referral Hospital. In terms of structural damages, several houses have been damaged.

Chhukha reported one casualty leaving another one injured. 130 houses were damaged. These include houses in Phuentsholing and Tshimalakha.

The Chhukha dzong, nine lhakhangs, 7 chortens, 4 educational centres, the Chhukha hospital, three Basic health Units and RNR Centres and a Gup’s office were also damaged.

In Samtse 73 houses, 3 lhakhangs, 4 education centres, 3 gups offices and a RNR centre was damaged. An injury case was also reported.

In Gasa, 115 houses, the dzong, two lhakhangs, three chortens, an educational centre, a Gup’s office, a Basic Health Unit and a RNR Center were also damaged.

117 houses were damaged in Dagana, along with the dzong, two lhakhangs, five chortens, five Gup’s offices, three educational centres, two RNR Centres and a Basic Health Unit.

Over in Trashigang, 214 houses, six lhakhangs, an educational centre and a Basic Health Unit was damaged.

Trashiyangtse reported of 111 houses that were damaged. The dzong, three lhakhangs and five educational centres also suffered damages.

In the other dzongkhags of Trongsa, Bumthang Zhemgang, Sarpang, Samdrupjongkhar Tsirang and Pema gatshel, a total of 137 houses were damaged. This does not include the Trongsa and Zhemgang dzongs.

A total of 22 lhakhangs, six chortens, 11 educational centres, two basic Health Units and a Gup’s Office were also damaged in these Dzongkhags.

This is only the preliminary report and the Department of Disaster Management is still in the process of compiling detailed reports.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Bhutan - Yet to be vetted for domestic air service

11 September, 2011 - The department of civil aviation (DCA) has not yet approved the national airline’s ATR aircraft from performing test flights at Yonphula airstrip in Trashigang.

DCA director general, Phala Dorji said outside experts have been called in to study whether the ATR 42-500 can safely be operated to Yonphula, and Batpalathang airstrip in Bumthang.

The study will focus on the runway lengths of the two airstrips, and the take off and landing lengths required by the ATR aircraft. The runway length for Batpalathang and Yonphula are 1,200m and 1,300m respectively.

Calculating take off and landing lengths requires a number of factors to be taken into consideration, such as altitude, weight of aircraft, temperature, wind speed and direction, among others.

According to information on the ATR manufacturer’s website, the aircraft with a full load of 48 passengers, each weighing 95kg, will require 990m to take off at sea level. This required length increases as airport altitude increases. For instance, at 3,000ft and take off under same weight increases to 1,163m, according to the manufacturer. The same concept applies to landing length required.

With both Batpalathang and Yonphula situated at around 8,500ft, the ATR will have to operate by carrying less than full capacity to safely operate within the two airstrip’s runway lengths. This means flying with less passengers.

This practice, referred to as weight penalty in aviation terms, is also used at Paro airport for any kind of aircraft.

DCA will base its approval on the results of the study conducted by foreign expertise. Phala Dorji said the agency would have to be thoroughly “convinced” prior to approving any test flights.

Drukair CEO Tandin Jamso said the airline is confident of the ATR’s ability to handle the country’s domestic airstrips. He pointed out that ATR officials, who will perform the first test flights, were also confident that the aircraft would safely operate on both airstrips. He added that, if there were risk, the manufacturer itself would not conduct such an activity, as it would hurt their reputation.

He added that no airline would invest in equipment if it would not be able to perform at airports or airstrips it would eventually be using.

Meanwhile, DCA has also instructed Drukair to store spare parts to prevent lengthy groundings of its ATR. The length of the groundings was primarily due to transportation of spare parts from abroad. The aircraft was grounded almost the entire month in August.

According to DCA, the three consecutive technical problems were not major safety issues. DCA reiterated that the 9-year-old ATR aircraft had passed audit inspections prior to purchase by Drukair and is in good condition.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Monday, 5 September 2011

Bhutan - Yonphula passes test flight

5 September, 2011 - With a test flight successfully landing and taking off from Yonphula, Trashigang, yesterday, Bhutan’s first domestic airstrip is now open for scheduled flight operations, says the department of civil aviation (DCA).

Using a 10-seater propeller aircraft, DCA and Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai) officials conducted the first ever fixed-winged air operation into the Yonphula airstrip yesterday morning. Only Indian Air Force helicopter landings have taken place at the airstrip prior.

The flight was conducted by DCA and Aerothai to test communications gear set up at Yonphula, as well as Batpalathang airstrip in Bumthang.

While the test flight did not land at the Batpalathang airstrip, communications procedure for aircraft flying within the three airstrips in Bhutan have now been established, according to DCA. Batpalathang airstrip, although scheduled to be completed this month contractually, may likely only be ready in October.

DCA director general, Phala Dorji, who was a member of the test flight, said it was conducted also to address public doubt about the safety of Yonphula airstrip. Public concerns regarding the foggy and windy environment, presence of hillocks at one end of the airstrip have occasionally surfaced.

“There’s no problem when it comes to safety,” said Phala Dorji.

On the fog and wind factor, he said that flights would be allowed to operate only when these conditions are absent, such as early morning. With a flight time of 30 minutes from Paro, and 15 minutes from Bumthang, he said that airlines can operate 3-4 flights in the morning to Yonphula. He also said that, if fog or wind conditions arose during a flight into Yonphula, it would be simply be diverted by Yonphula air traffic control. He pointed out that such weather conditions were only present during summer, and not winter, months.

Phala Dorji said that the hillocks are not an issue. While the hillocks have been partially demolished, he said, they would be completely removed at a later date. He attributed lack of funds for not completely demolishing the two hillocks.

While DCA used a smaller aircraft to demonstrate safety of Yonphula, national airline Drukair will be using a much larger 48-seater ATR 42-500. The national airline is still awaiting DCA’s approval to use this larger aircraft. DCA said that Drukair must submit all technical data from its own test flights to demonstrate that the aircraft is feasible for Yonphula and Batpalathang.

Tashi Air, which expects its aircraft only in October, will be operating a much smaller aircraft, similar to the one used yesterday.

Based on information available, launching of scheduled domestic air services may take place only in October.