Bhutan’s Paro air­port’s fate in limbo: IAF may re­lo­cate

Bhutan Times - - Editorial -

Paro In­ter­na­tional Air­port in the Hi­malayan king­dom of Bhutan, which acts as a global gate­way to ad­join­ing eastern In­dia, will start lim­it­ing the num­ber of flights from May due to a space crunch, hurt­ing tourism and busi­ness prospects in the re­gion.

A plan to ex­pand the air­port and its fa­cil­i­ties has been stalled, pending the re­lease of funds com­mit­ted by In­dia and the re­lo­ca­tion of an In­dian Air Force base from the air field.

“Cur­tail­ment of ser­vices through the air­port will have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity of ad­join­ing In­dian area. Paro is only a cou­ple of hours’ drive from eastern In­dian tourism hubs like Guwahati and Silig­uri and we have an open bor­der be­tween the two coun­tries,” said tourism con­sul­tant R Basu

Paro air­port of­fers con­ve­nient pas­sage for both in­bound and out­bound tourists in the re­gion, in­clud­ing eastern In­dia. At least 40% of the pre­mium for­eign tourists vis­it­ing the eastern Hi­malayan re­gion travel to Bhutan and eastern In­dia, ac­cord­ing to Basu, who is based in Silig­uri.

“Ex­pan­sion and proper ser­vice through the air­port is im­por­tant for us,” said PK Shah, for­mer chair­man of the North Ben­gal Chap­ter of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dian In­dus­try in Silig­uri. Paro plays a vi­tal role in main­tain­ing ex­ter­nal links for en­trepreneurs from eastern In­dia, he said. The Paro air field, lo­cated at an el­e­va­tion of 7,300 feet and sur­rounded by peaks as high as 18,000 feet, al­ready lim­its op­er­a­tions to the day­time, a win­dow that is of­ten short­ened by bad weather, es­pe­cially dur­ing the mon­soon. “The air­port is grow­ing at a rapid rate due to fast-grow­ing eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties in the en­tire re­gion,” said Basu. The Paro air field, lo­cated at an el­e­va­tion of 7,300 feet and sur­rounded by peaks as high as 18,000 feet, al­ready lim­its op­er­a­tions to the day­time, a win­dow that is of­ten short­ened by bad weather, es­pe­cially dur­ing the mon­soon. The In­dian gov­ern­ment had com­mit­ted Rs 680 mil­lion for the planned ca­pac­ity aug­men­ta­tion, in­clud­ing ex­pan­sion of the apron area, at Paro air­port, which was built in 1968 by the In­dian army. The funds are yet to be re­leased, ac­cord­ing to Wangdi Gyalt­shen, direc­tor of Bhutan’s depart­ment of civil avi­a­tion. In­dia has com­mit­ted Rs 680 mil­lion for Bhutan’s 11th five-year plan (2013-2018). A large part of the Rs 185 mil­lion grant for the 10th plan was re­leased at the end of that pe­riod.

Be­sides, the area ear­marked for the ex­pan­sion is cur­rently oc­cu­pied by an In­dian Air Force base. Dis­cus­sions to re­lo­cate the base had started in 2008 and the In­dian gov­ern­ment has yet to give its fi­nal clear­ance. IAF of­fi­cials at Bag­do­gra base de­clined to com­ment on the mat­ter. “The is­sue de­mands higher- level ini­tia­tives from the In­dian side that can ben­e­fit both the coun­tries,” se­nior Bhutan ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cials said. The des­ti­na­tions con­nected to Paro air­port are Kathmandu, Bangkok, Dhaka, Kolkata, Bag­do­gra and New Delhi.

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