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