3 options for the Airport
The centerpiece of the Gelephu Mindfulness City project will be the International Airport that will come up there.
There are currently three options on the table for building the airport.
The first option is the current one made by local officials which is extending the current airport from the 1,500 meters to 2,240 meters. This would involve diverting a stream so that it meanders in such a way that it goes away from the airport.
This would enable Airbus 320 Jets to land and cost around Nu 2 bn.
However, the limitation of this plan is that the airport cannot be extended any further in the future when the bigger international airport comes up and so it would be expensive at that time.
So, officials are now looking at a second option for which a team will be sent on Wednesday to do a feasibility study. This second option which is also studied by the Asian Development Bank would allow the 2,240 meters runway to be expanded in the future to 3,000 meters without too much additional cost allowing the bigger Airbus 350 to land too.
This second option would cost Nu 4 to 5 bn.
Since the airport is the main thing that would kick start everything officials are anxious to even complete the project before the two-year deadline.
So instead of waiting to start the project by October 2024 the aim is to fasten the clearances and the pace using the SAR status and start construction by early 2024 after selecting some good and reliable contractors.
The third and the most expensive and long-term option is the one proposed by Bjarke Ingels which has a 4,000-meter-long runway including one that goes over the Sunkosh River. This would be big enough to land the Airbus 380.
This airport would cost USD 4 to 5 bn and a lot of the money would go in landfills for the right slope for the airport.
However, the third option is only viable once the current airport shows it is vibrant and the City also kicks of successfully.
After this Bhutan could look at inviting foreign private players especially from India to build the USD 4 to 5 bn airport and operate it on the BOOT model.
To give life to the airport Druk Air is soon expected to start two domestic flights per week.
Gelephu also recently already got certified as an international airport by the ICAO and so Bhutan is planning to start international flights using the ATR plane to nearby destinations like Bagdora, Guwahati and Kolkata etc.
Bhutan wants to first do an inaugural international flight using the ATR to India.
Once Bhutan extends the airport to 2,240 meters and Airbus 320’s can land then Bhutan will need new and longer routes outside via India.
Currently India provides the Subsu and Bogo air routes over India for planes flying from Paro and for Gelephu Bhutan is requesting two more routes of Igay and Taray in the east and west to directly fly out and in, as otherwise it will have to use a long and circuitous route.
It is hope this is agreed to and updated in the Bilateral Air Service agreement. There has been positivity at the request at the higher level but a ground level technical study is being done on the Indian side.