Buddha Air starts flight to Bhutan (Tue, 24 Aug 2010)

Bhutan’s airspace just got a little bit busier. Buddha air successfully conducted its first commercial flight between the Paro and Kathmandu yesterday.

“It was an adventurous flight,” laughed one of the passengers, recalling the more than usual manoeuvres required to land in Paro airport.

Bureaucratic procedures have delayed Buddha Air’s first commercial flight to Bhutan by four months, and heavy clouds hanging over Paro valley yesterday looked to cause further delay. But Buddha Air’s small 18-seater twin propeller airline emerged from the clouds unscathed, and landed on time. “Slightly bumpy,” said another passenger. “But an amazing flight,” he said, referring to the scenery.

“This might be a small step for Nepalese aviation, but a great leap for Buddha air,” said the managing director of the Nepalese airline, Birendra B Basnet, in a press release. The Nepalese airline’s flight to Paro is its first commercial international sortie, while it is also the country’s first foreign commercial airline entrant in 29 years of Bhutanese civil aviation.

Speaking to Kuensel, Birendra B Basnet said that Buddha Air would also pursue linking Paro airport to the Indian cities of Bagdogra and Guwahati in the short term. In the long run, the airline would also like to fly from Paro to Kolkata, India and even Dhaka, Bangladesh, he said. Such moves by Buddha Air will mean more competition for the national airline, Drukair, which is the sole operator of these routes.

Although Buddha Air did not reveal its normal air fare for locals yesterday, it did announce a “special fare” for locals. The special fare will be around Nu 2,820 or USD 60, excluding taxes, but that is only if you book in advance and “as when seats are available,” it says in the press release. Airline officials said the fares would be calculated, based on demand and released periodically.

Despite offering lower airfares for both locals and tourists, compared to Drukair, Buddha air denied it is competing with the national airline. “It’s not competition,” said Birendra B Basnet, “we want to complement Drukair.” He explained that, with Bhutan wanting to achieve a tourist number of 65,000 in 2011 and 100,000 in 2012, an increase in the number of airline seats to facilitate such a goal would be required.

Along with its plans to link India and Bangladesh to Bhutan, the Nepalese airline will also be increasing flights between Paro and Kathmandu shortly. Currently allowed only four flights a week, the airline will go daily, once the tourist season is in full flow, and air service agreements between the two countries have been renewed and revised. “Our objective is to put in as many flights into Paro,” said Birendra B Basnet.

Besides the tourist market, Buddha Air is also confident that a local market exists. Buddha Air sr. finance manager, Ganesh R Lohani, said that both Bhutanese and Nepalese religious tourists are being targeted. The airline’s MD, Basnet, explained that the airline is aware that many Bhutanese travel to Kathmandu via Bhadrapur airport, in south east Nepal. “Why not fly directly.”

Buddha air will be operating pressurised Beech 1900D, an aircraft not subject to load penalty, into Paro airport. Although big enough only for 18 seats, Buddha air will divide this number into three classes and offer three different fares. Passengers willing to pay the tourist rate will be allowed 20 kg, while economy class passengers will be entitled to 15 kg.

“I’d like to assure our commitment for a long and fruitful operation to Bhutan,” said Birendra B Basnet.

By Gyalsten K Dorji Courtesy: Kuensel Online

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