Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nepal's Buddha Air

From today, fliers have a choice

home After 29 years, Drukair’s monopoly ends (but only for Paro-K’mandu for now)

To operate four times a week with plans to go daily

Buddha Air 23 August, 2010 - When one of Nepal’s private airlines, Buddha air touches down at Paro airport today, the country’s 29 year old commercial aviation industry will be welcoming its first foreign airline that will operate commercial air services to Bhutan.

“People now have a second choice,” said Buddha air’s local representative, Kinley Tshering. “It’s going to be good for the public in general, and for the dynamics of the tourism industry,” he added. Although the benefits of Buddha Air’s competition will be limited to only between the Paro-Kathmandu sector, the airline has also expressed interest in connecting Paro to cities in India.

Although the government has signed bilateral air services with other countries as early as 1986, low commercial viability of operating to Bhutan has deterred foreign airlines from flying into Paro airport. Bhutan has signed bilateral air services with Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand. Currently, talks are also underway to establish air links with Hong Kong and Singapore.

Aviation Timeline
1968 – Airstrip constructed in Paro

1981 – National airline Drukair established

1983 – Drukair commences commercial air services with two 18-seater Dornier twin turbo propeller aircraft

1986 – Department of civil aviation established, bilateral air service (BAS) signed with Bangladesh

1980 – Increasing traffic prompts Drukair to upgrade fleet to jet aircraft with 82-seater BAe 146-100

1990 – Civil aviation act passed

1991 – BAS signed with India

1993 – BAS signed with Thailand

2002 – BAS signed with Myanmar

2004 – Drukair upgrades fleet to Airbus A319 jet aircraft, BAS signed with Nepal

2010 – Government pursues establishing domestic air services

2010 – Buddha Air, a private Nepal based airline commences operations to Bhutan

“It’s a healthy development,” said communications secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji on Buddha Air’s inaugural flight. “Bhutan is pursuing economic development with tourism as one of the means, so we need the connectivity,” he said.

Even the national airline is welcoming Buddha Air, despite seeing an end to its long monopoly on the Paro-Kathmandu sector. Drukair CEO, Tandin Jamso had earlier told Kuensel that Buddha Air’s entrance would allow its customers to gauge the airline’s services in comparison to its competitor. Drukair customer service regularly faces complaints and criticism. He also said the competition would keep Drukair staff on their toes.

Buddha Air will be offering lower fares than Drukair, according to Kinley Tshering. This will be possible because Buddha Air will be using a smaller aircraft, which means lower operating costs than Drukair. Buddha Air will be operating a 19-seater, compared to Drukair’s current aircraft operating the sector which is a 48-seater.

Tourists will be charged USD 190 or a “little bit lower” for a one way ticket, according to Kinley Tshering. But he said that Buddha air is targeting only those tourists that cannot obtain a seat on Drukair during the peak tourist seasons in Bhutan.

“It’ll definitely be much more affordable,” said Kinley Tshering on the air fare for Bhutanese travellers. Although he did not provide a figure, he said the fare for locals would be announced shortly. He also said that the fare would be revised periodically and be based on market demand.

Buddha Air’s inaugural flight to Paro, which touches down at 11:55 PM, will have a passenger load of mostly government, tourism and airline officials. It will be operating four flights a week, with plans to go daily.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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