BHUTANS tourism industry rests chiefly on the wings of Drukair Royal Bhutan Airlines. The mountainous, landlocked country has realised the importance of aviation in enhancing the economic development of its people and connecting them with the rest of the world.
Drukair has come a long way since it was established by a royal proclamation in 1981 and began commercial operations in 1983. It operated flights to only two destinations then. Today, the airline operates flights to seven cities in four countries India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand its latest destination being Bagdogra in West Bengal, India.
In June, Drukair made Bagdogra a stopover destination. This was possible because of the friendly ties Bhutan has with India. We have received positive responses not just from Siliguri and Darjeeling in [West] Bengal, but also from Sikkim. We are certain that Bagdogra will become one of the biggest intermediate routes for Drukair, Tshering Penjore, General Manager (Commercial), Drukair, said.
The flight from Paro International Airport to Bangkok arrives at Bagdogra twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays and when it returns to Paro on Wednesdays and Sundays. The flight schedules are early morning before domestic traffic commences. Bagdogra is a convenient halting point in case of inclement weather in Paro.
Paro, situated in a deep valley at an altitude of 2,235 metres and surrounded by mountains as high as 4,900 m, is a challenging airport with minimum navigational aid. Bagdogra is only 20 minutes flying time from Paro. Earlier, when weather conditions turned bad, we had to stop either in Kathmandu or in Kolkata, both of which are an hours flight away, says Penjore.
Named after the sacred dragon of Bhutan, Drukair has never lost its traditional charm in spite of all the modernisation efforts. In March 2008, the airline introduced a new uniform for its cabin crew a stylised version of the kira and tego (blouse) to mark not just the centenary year of Bhutans monarchy, but also Drukairs 25th anniversary.
The airline is controlled by Druk Holding and Investments Ltd., the largest government-owned holding company, and has, for the first time, registered a net profit. Penjore said 2008 was the first year when we were out of the red and could pay taxes to the government. We expect to do the same this year, too.Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay