Bhutan national airline to get its fourth airbus next year

THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) - With the arrival of a new aircraft A320 NEO next year, Drukair (National Airline) is expected to expand its services.

Drukair’s chief executive officer, Tandi Wangchuk, said the airline was planning to add new routes mainly one to the east and one to the west.

In the east, he said the airline was looking at some cities in Japan via Thailand or Myanmar for which air service agreement needs to be signed between the governments of Bhutan and Japan.

In the west, they are looking to cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via India or Nepal. Air service agreement already exists between Bhutan and UAE. Bhutan signed the agreement with UAE in November last year.

“These additional gateways will improve global connectivity to and from Paro and we hope will contribute to increase in international tourists to Bhutan,” he said. “We are also studying to increase Drukair’s reach from Bangkok and Singapore to neighboring ASEAN locations”

Tandi Wangchuk said they are expecting the new aircraft to join the national airline in the first quarter of 2020 and start operations immediately. The exact date is yet to be confirmed.

While the A320 NEO can accommodate seats up to 185, all economy with less space between seats, Drukair is planning to have the capacity of 140 seats (20 Business and 120 economy).

This, Tandi Wangchuk said was considering the passengers’ comfort and also the physically challenging airport in Paro.

The airline is buying the aircraft which would cost approximately USD 53.5 million from an Airbus company based in France. The aircraft is fully funded by Drukair and Druk Holding and Investments.

“We are injecting 30 percent as equity and availing 70 percent as loan from National Pension and Provident Fund,” he said.

With the new Airbus, Drukair will have a fleet of four airbuses. DrukAir currently has three A319 CEO and a smaller aircraft (ATR-42-500), which would be replaced with a new one (ATR-42-600) this July.

A320 NEO is a larger aircraft compared to A319 CEO. Tandi Wangchuk said it has the same width but is longer and can accommodate more passengers.

The new Airbus will be equipped with additional features like infrared cameras and there is also a plan to introduce some limited IFE (in-flight entertainment) services.

“The infrared cameras will help in seeing through clouds and as and when the Airbus receives certification for its SkyVision system for commercial use, the cameras will be fully integrated to the system thereby making it possible to fly in low visibility conditions,” he said.

Currently, Drukair operates flights to Bangkok in Thailand, Singapore, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Kathmandu in Nepal, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdora, Guwahati, Bodhgaya, and Mumbai in India.

In 2018, Drukair carried 110,570 passengers from the rest of the world, 79,382 from SAARC countries and 82,701 Bhutanese.