Airline fact files – Drukair of Bhutan

The possibility is that you’ve never heard of Drukair.  Don’t worry; you’re not alone as there aren’t many people who have heard of Drukair.  The reason for that is that Drukair is one of the world’s smallest national airlines.

Drukair is the national airline for the tiny Himalayan State of Bhutan.  The airline was started in 1981 after Bhutan’s King, Jigme Wangchuck, decided to open Bhutan to tourism.  In order to control the number of tourists entering Bhutan it was decided that international passengers could only enter the country by air, and Drukair is the only airline that flies to Bhutan.

Drukair is based in the town of Paro, Bhutan because it has the only paved runway in the country.  It has a fleet of three aircraft, two Airbus A-319s and an ATR-42 turboprop, and flies to just 8 destinations, most of which are in India.  The reason for the choice of aircraft is because Paro airport runway is rather short at 1,200 metres in length, and is 2,235 metres (7,333 ft) above sea level, but is surrounded by mountains that are over 5,480 mtrs (18,000 ft) in height.  This necessitated aircraft that could handle short take off and landings.

Paro is considered to be one of the world’s most difficult airports due to its short runway, high surrounding peaks and occasional shocking weather conditions and very strong winds.  Apparently, there are only eight pilots who are accredited to land and take off at Paro Airport.  Aircraft movements at the airport can only occur in daylight hours as it lacks sophisticated radar systems.

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