Paro airport expansion work runs out of funds
Expansion work at Paro international airport will come to a halt next month with the department of civil aviation (DCA) running out of money.
The government of India (GoI) is funding the expansion work, which includes the construction of a second passenger terminal, apartment buildings for security personnel and a fire station.
GoI committed Nu 235M in the 10th Plan for the expansion work. The government received Nu 30M of that money so far under the 11th Plan.
“We’re planning to stop all the works because we don’t have money to pay the contractors,” said DCA airport chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk. “The contractors want money but we can’t pay them.”
Indian government funding also included Nu 83.7M to improve communications and navigation aid technology at Paro airport, which has been completed.
The Indian government has also committed a further Nu 680M for Paro airport in the 11th Plan.
Flight delays and cancellations
But without any money in hand, works are delayed and plans stalled. Expanding the apron used to park aircraft and construction of an aircraft taxi way parallel to the runway have not even started.
With both Drukair and Tashi Air planning to bring in one more aircraft each, Paro international airport will be handling up to seven aircraft a day in 2015. Given this scenario, expansion of the airport, including a new passenger terminal, is a critical requirement.
Even with the current number of five aircraft, problems are already occurring. Paro airport’s apron is big enough to allow only four large aircraft to park simultaneously. A fifth can be squeezed in if it is the smaller twin propeller aircraft used by Drukair.
Occasionally, normal procedures have to be ignored. It can be observed that sometimes when the apron is full, aircraft are boarded or disembarked at the hangar, or an aircraft is towed onto the runway, given the lack of a taxi way, to allow another to move on to the apron.
Drukair has raised its concerns. It has also asked DCA to schedule flights so that such measures are not needed. But with Paro airport limited to daylight operations only, and subjected to further curfews during the windy and monsoon seasons, the window is small.
Drukair CEO Tandin Jamso acknowledged this challenge, but still pointed out that flights are being delayed and cancelled because of the parking problem, especially when private aircraft are also present at the airport.
Earlier, the CEO also had raised concerns that more aircraft in a limited space increased the risks of damage to aircraft, given the number of equipment moving around and servicing the aircraft.
Drukair has recommended that the apron be expanded.
But even if DCA had the money to expand the apron, the space required is currently occupied by the Indian air force. The Indian army constructed Paro airport during the 1960s. Talks have been occurring at the political level to relocate the organisation since at least 2008 but the issue remains unresolved.
For the first time in the airport’s history, DCA is turning away aircraft from using Paro airport. But for now it has only turned away private aircraft. It is highly possible that DCA may deny additional flights by both airlines during the tourist season.
“This will affect the tourism industry,” said Karma Wangchuk. “The bottle neck is now at the airport.”
Corporatising Paro airport may be a solution
DCA has proposed to the government that Paro airport be corporatised. Besides complying with international rules that require airport management to be segregated from regulatory functions to prevent conflict of interest, such a move would also allow easier access to funds.
Given that the Indian government had committed money, no other sources of funds were made available to Paro airport by the government. As it is a government agency, Paro airport cannot also on its own accept offers of assistance from outside agencies.
However, if corporatised, Paro airport would be able to avail loans from organisations like the Asian Development Bank (ADB), at low interest rates. Karma Wangchuk pointed out that agencies like the Neighbouring Countries Development Agency of Thailand and ADB are willing to assist in developing the airport.
As a corporate entity the airport would also function more efficiently. It is currently impeded by time consuming government procedures, preventing flexibility in responding to situations.
For instance, it took a chance personal visit by the prime minister to suspend a biometric registration system at the airport, four days after it was introduced by the immigration department. The measure caused some passengers to wait for more than an hour in queue.
India, China, Thailand, and Singapore have separated airport services from regulatory functions. Bhutan, Nepal, and Pakistan are the only countries in the region that have not adopted this model.
It was pointed out that, if regulatory and airport management separation had already occurred, perhaps, the problems that plagued the domestic airports might have been prevented.
The domestic airports were built by the regulator, DCA, and certified by them as well. Such a scenario would qualify as a conflict of interest abroad.