Despite being inaugurated almost a year ago, the Gelephu domestic airport will not be ready to handle scheduled flights until an army camp is constructed on site.
“Gelephu’s biggest problem for regular flights is security,” information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji said. “Gelephu is a high security-risk area.”
He explained the Royal Bhutan Army would be providing security at the domestic airport, however, accommodation for at least 100 army personnel would have to be constructed first so that constant security is available to allow regular or scheduled flights.
The construction of accommodation is expected to cost between Nu 80M to Nu 90M. The funds are yet to be mobilised.
Civil aviation officials said it was unlikely the domestic airport would be ready for scheduled flights this year. Dasho Kinley Dorji, however, said non-scheduled and charter flights could still operate.
He said when such flights occurred, the ministry would ask the army to provide security on that particular day.
He added the ministry was considering purchasing trucks that would transport army personnel from the nearest military base to the airport when required.
Drukair will be operating at least two charter flights to Gelephu this year. It has so far operated two charter flights to the airport.
Dasho Kinley Dorji also highlighted that Gelephu could serve as a back up airport during domestic flight operations.
It was pointed out that domestic flights could be diverted to Gelephu when weather turned bad preventing aircraft from landing at any of the three high altitude airports.
While security is being cited as top priority prerequisite for scheduled flights, other amenities are also required.
In an earlier interview, civil aviation director Wangdi Gyeltshen said facilities for checking in, immigration, and customs would also be required at the airport. Fire engines would also be needed at the airport.
Civil aviation is also to construct a new air traffic control tower and terminal building at the airport, which is expected to cost Nu 10M, excluding security equipment such as security cameras, metal detectors and x-ray machine among others.
This construction is also subject to budget availability.
The existing air traffic control tower and terminal building at the airport, located about 480m away from the runway have been found unsuitable location-wise.
The construction of a new air traffic control tower and terminal building closer to the runway, officials said would be cheaper than constructing an access road connecting the present tower and terminal to the runway and highway.
The present air traffic control and terminal was constructed at a cost of Nu 2.5M to Nu 3M.
Dasho Kinley Dorji said the existing structures would probably be converted into a surveillance tower or office for the army.
The present structure would have been required anyway as the accommodation for RBA will be constructed in that area, he pointed out. “It’s not a waste,” he said.
Source: Kuensel Online