Yonphula Domestic Airport expanded to enhance safety

Yonphula Domestic Airport expanded to enhance safety

Yonphula domestic airport, located in the eastern part of the country, is undergoing expansion and extension work to improve safety and enhance the runway.  

The airport has been a challenging investment for the government due to the gloomy weather conditions in the area, which has caused landing and take-off problems, frustrating many travelers who have experienced flight cancellations and delays. 

According to the Director General of the Department of Air Transport and Authority, Karma Wangchuk, the airport is currently a one-way landing and take-off airport.  

However, when there are weather issues such as fog, it becomes difficult to land or take-off with only one runway.  

“The landscape and weather conditions in the area make it challenging to establish an alternative runway like Paro airport, which has an all-way runway. “ 

He added that although there are plans to study the possibility of establishing another alternative way to land and take off, it is currently not possible due to the weather and landscape in the area. 

 As a result, the Department of Air Transport and Authority is prioritizing safety and constructing a Runway and Safety Area (RESA) to improve the airport’s safety in case of technical or plane failure.  

Additionally, the manager of Yongphula domestic airport, Tshetrim Drakpa said that the RESA would slow down the plane in case of overshoot, ensuring that the plane would not hit the hill but come to a stop within the RESA area.  

He said that although it is not currently feasible to establish an alternative runway for the Yonphula domestic airport, once the RESA (Runway End Safety Area) constructions are completed, it may be possible to establish other alternative runways. He also said, “If there is an alternative runway or another direction from where a plane can land or take off, then there will not be much of an issue because if the current runway cannot be used due to fog or other reasons, the pilot can choose another way to land and take off.” 

Meanwhile the RESA is being extended by approximately 150 meters with sand and substances to slow down the plane.  In addition to the RESA, the airport is also constructing hill reshaping, fencing realignment, drainage, and other site development works.  

 The project started on June 10, 2022, and is expected to be completed by May 10, 2023.  

The Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) has funded the project with a budget of Nu 59.86 million (mn). The work has been awarded to Nor-Zang Construction Private Limited. 

Subsequently Traveling to the eastern part of Bhutan is only possible by air, as the highway running east to west is in poor condition, and the path from Phuentsholing to Samdrup Jongkhar is not frequently traveled. However, the unpredictable weather at Yonphula has caused flight cancellations, frustrating travelers. 

To which the DG of Air transport and authority, Karma Wangchuk said that the Average True Range (ATR) used in domestic flights by Druk Air is 642-600, and heavy fog makes it challenging for planes to land in Yonphula.  

“While there is a possibility of installing an instrument landing system, the thick fog at Yonphula would still make it challenging for planes to land, and the airport’s unidirectional runway is not suitable for this system.” He said that the extension and expansion work at Yonphula domestic airport is expected to improve safety and reduce frustration for travelers.  

The RESA will ensure that planes come to a stop within the designated area in case of overshoot, enhancing safety during technical or plane failure. The completion of the project by May 2023 will be a significant step towards improving air travel in the eastern part of Bhutan

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu