Expanding Bhutan’s air connectivity to five countries, a direct air link between Singapore and Bhutan was established after national airline Druk Air flew its inaugural flight to the island state, on Tuesday.
Her Royal Highness Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck was on board as chief guest, leading a delegation, comprising DHI, Druk Air, and government representatives, among others.
On arrival, HRH Chimi Yangzom Wangchuk also inaugurated a photo exhibition entitled “Bhutan: the Untouched Kingdom” that will be on display for a month at Changi international airport’s terminal three.
The exhibition, which is complemented by an exhibits of arts and crafts, also provides an opportunity for travellers to don the gho and kira, and even to try their hand at archery, all as part of an attempt to raise awareness about the country as a tourist destination.
The operator of the airport, the Changi airport group (CAG), later hosted a welcome ceremony that was attended by information and communications minister, Nandalal Rai, and Singaporean minister for transport, Lui Tuck Yew.
“Singapore is indeed privileged to be chosen by Drukair as it expands operations here to south-east Asia,” said the CEO of CAG, Lee Seow Hiang. “This represents the strong bilateral ties that both countries enjoy.” He added, “It is also an affirmation and encouragement for us at Changi, in the sense that it demonstrates the kind of connectivity that we can provide new entrants like Druk Air.”
Lee Seow Hiang also pointed out that CAG has and will continue collaborating with the tourism council of Bhutan and Drukair to market Bhutan as a tourist destination, not only in Singapore but Australia as well.
Both Druk Air and the CAG see Australian tourists using Singapore to fly to Bhutan. The Singapore connection is expected to reduce travel time from the island state to Bhutan by almost half, from 12 to six hours, as stopovers in Bangkok, Thailand, can be avoided.
Speaking to this paper, Drukair CEO Tandin Jamso, said that Singapore was chosen, based on increasing tourist arrivals from Australia and New Zealand. He added that, following the visit of Their Majesties the King and the Queen to Singapore, interest in visiting Bhutan has been generated, and is increasing.
He said that Singapore also establishes a second gateway to Bhutan from the southeast market, besides Bangkok, allowing tapping into markets like Indonesia.
On whether Druk Air sees Singapore, a major aviation hub, replacing Bangkok at its busiest sector, Tandin Jamso said that, while there may be some loss of traffic on the Bangkok sector, as Japanese and Australian tourists opt to fly to Bhutan via Singapore, Bangkok will remain a “very important hub”. He said that both airports would cater to different markets and, while traffic may lessen on the Bangkok sector, it is expected that overall tourist numbers to Bhutan should increase. Currently, Drukair is operating a record 13 flights a week to Bangkok.
The expansion of Druk Air’s route network is another significant milestone for Bhutanese aviation.
The president of the hotel’s association of Bhutan, Tobgye S Dorji, who was also on the inaugural flight, highlighted how far aviation has come, not just from 1983, when Druk Air established its first scheduled flights between Kolkata and Paro using a twin propeller 19-seater Dornier 228, but from the 1960s.
Tobgye S Dorji said that he had experienced flying into Paro in a Dakota DC-type aircraft in the late 1960s. “Those days, the Dakota, a non-pressurised aircraft, ‘clacked’ all the way into Bhutan, wing tips touching the valleys literally, now, it’s luxurious, who’d have imagined flying to Singapore then.”
Meanwhile, Drukair has deferred commencement of scheduled flights to Mumbai, India to the end of the year, based on lower anticipated traffic figures. But Tandin Jamso said that Mumbai would become an additional gateway in India to Bhutan.
Tandin Jamso pointed out that Druk Air has submitted to the government that an air services agreement with Hong Kong be established, so that it can commence operations to the Chinese business hub.