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.