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The civil aviation sub-sector has seen steady growth and basic infrastructure and regulatory framework are now in place to provide international air transport services. Activities during the Ninth Plan focused on improving the services at Paro international airport to meet its growing requirements and to enhance safety in air transport service. Feasibility studies are also being carried out to construct a second major airport in the country.

The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) is entrusted with the promotion and development of air transport sector in the country. Since DCA is both the regulator and provider of aerodrome and air navigation services, there is a certain degree of overlap in its functions resulting in dilution of its roles and responsibilities. In line with the Civil Aviation Master Plan (CAMP) recommendations, the process to create clear structural and functional separation between the regulatory and service provider (airports and air navigation) functions has already begun.

Challenges and Opportunities

Druk Air, the sole air operator in the country, operates to six destinations in four countries. Flight operation into Paro International Airport is possible only during daytime under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) condition and low monsoon clouds continue to cause flight disruptions. During the winter month until mid-May, high velocity winds do not permit flight operations into Paro in the afternoons. Owing to these natural factors, commercial viability of the national airline is significantly affected.

International air transport activity in the country is totally confined to Paro airport. The existing airport terminal infrastructure, grossly underutilized during normal operations, can barely accommodate increased passengers resulting from additional flights operated during peak tourist seasons. Service delivery standards at the airport also require to be continuously improved. The development of a second airport remains critical to remove bottleneck for growth of tourism sector and the export of high value low weight products. This will also help Bhutan potentially develop an air freight services hub.

Despite significant efforts made over the Ninth Plan, domestic air services could not be initiated and a redoubling of efforts will have to be made to improve the existing infrastructure at Paro international and construct the second international airport.

Policy and Strategies

To improve the current situation of air transport sector in the country, the Royal Government will focus on the development and expansion of air transport infrastructure in the country. The construction of a new domestic airport will be undertaken and required infrastructures like domestic airstrips with short take and landing facilities explored and developed. Greater private sector participation in the air transport business will be encouraged and the human resource and institutional capacity to efficiently run such domestic air services shall also be strengthened. 

With the focus on the establishment of a variety of air transport services in the Tenth Plan, importance will be given to strengthen safety measures, develop security surveillance system, emergency response and search and rescue capabilities. The expansion and development of Paro international airport will also be given priority in the Tenth Plan. Infrastructure expansion will need to be carried out to meet the requirements of the growing number of passengers. Security and airport safety will also be strengthened and navigation aid and communication technologies improved.

Exploration for bilateral, regional and international cooperation will continue to be a regular activity in the development of the sector. The regulatory, safety and security framework will be continuously evaluated and amended on an ongoing basis to achieve compliance with the latest international standards and requirements.
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