Yonphula Airport In Bhutan Sees More Passengers With Increased Flights Per Week

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Operations manager with Koufuku International Limited, Sanjok Biswakarma, said that the changes in the flight timing were well-timed.

Yonphula airport, viewed from a distance. (Source: Druktrails)

 

By Younten Tshedup | kuensel

Described as one of the most challenging airports in the world, the Yonphula domestic airport in Kanglung, Trashigang is witnessing an increasing number of passengers lately.

The national airline, Drukair has operated 144 flights to the airport since 11 November last year, of which 50 flights were cancelled due to bad weather.

However, with the improvement of the weather, Drukair has resumed its three flights per week after it was reduced to two flights a week during the monsoon season.

 

 Yonphula airport's runway

Source: DrukAsia

 

Drukair’s station manager at Yonphula, Sonam Gyeltshen said that since the last week of October, the flight frequency has resumed to three along with a change in the flight timing.

Change in flight timing to maximise operations

“The previous flight timing was unfavourable which is why after discussing with the people and management, we decided to change it for maximum operations,” said the station manager.

Earlier, the flight timing at Yonphula was set at 15:15 hours, which was challenging as thick cloud usually blanketed the area at this time of the day.

Now, the timing has been rescheduled to 11:45 hours on Tuesdays and Sundays and at 12:10 hours on Thursdays.

Operations manager with Koufuku International Limited, Sanjok Biswakarma, said that the changes in the flight timing were well-timed.

“Due to the ill timing of the flights and bad weather, many of us were discouraged to opt for domestic flights following several last-minute cancellations in the past.”

He said that if the airline maintains the same time schedule even during the monsoon, there would not be many cancellations like in the past.

Benefits that the change in flight schedule bring

On an average, there are more than 30 people availing the service today. College students and international tourists have benefitted the most from the changes.

 

Source: DLCA.logcluster.org

 

Drukair’s ticketing agent in Kanglung, Tashi Tobden said that with the improvement of the weather and change in flight timings, he could sell more tickets this month.

Following requests from college students, the agent has proposed for an additional flight to the airline next month.

Drukair will fly twice to Yonphula on December 6 to cater to the demands of the college students.

“If there are demands for additional flights, we can always make arrangements based on the availability of the aircraft,” said Sonam Gyeltshen.

“Such demands should be made in groups through the agent. We can then explore the possibilities.”

However, the station manager said that there are a few passengers who turned up late and expected them to consider the delay.

“The check-in time is one and half hours prior to boarding. There is no consideration to this,” he said.

“Half an hour before the take-off, the counter is closed. This is the international rule and we cannot help if someone is late.”

Why Yonphula domestic airport is one of the most challenging airports in the world

Meanwhile, according to the first officer with Drukair, Tshering Sonam, the Yonphula domestic airport is one of the toughest airports to land in the world.

“In all the four airports in Bhutan, we don’t have instruments guiding us while landing. You see visually, calculate and then land.”

He said that the weather, especially during the monsoon makes landing at Yonphula more challenging.

“While the valley is clear, the runway remains covered in fog making it difficult to land,” he said.

“And sometimes there are dogs on the runway.” Recently, the ATR after observing dogs on the runway had to make another round before it could land.

The first officer added that strong crosswinds - winds blowing perpendicularly to the runway, increases the difficulty during landing and take-off.

 

Prayer flags seen near Yonphula airport

Source: Druktrails

 

“This usually does not happen at the rest of the three airports in Bhutan. And then there is just one-way take-off and landing at the airport.”

The Communication and Navigation Assistant with the Department of Air Transport (DoAT), Kenzang Tenzin said that the navigation and telecommunication facility at the airport will be upgraded soon.

Proposed facilities to improve the infrastructure of the airport

He said that budget has been proposed to construct a fire station and a canteen with a public toilet and an additional fencing of about 1km around the airport in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Officials said that even with fencings, trespassing was an issue at the beginning. As one of the landmarks in the area, people from around the gewog gather to watch aircrafts land at the airport.

While the issues of trespassing have been reduced today, during occasions like the tshechu (festival) and other gatherings in the area, people can be seen climbing over the fence to see the aircrafts, according to the airport officials.

Gaps caused by landslides on the fencing area have also enabled the entry of stray dogs into the runway.

“With additional fencing, these issues can be addressed,” said Kenzang Tenzin.

Meanwhile, Drukair’s new ATR would be arriving by July next year. Officials said that the new aircraft will be technically advanced and equipped with some of the latest features.

  

This article first appeared in kuensel and has been edited for the new Bhutan Times.

 


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