The Telegraph

Bagdogra, June 18: Drukair, the Royal Bhutan Airlines, became the first commercial international flight to land in Bagdogra today, when it launched its service from Paro to Bangkok.

Around 11am, an Airbus 319 arrived at Bagdogra carrying officials of Drukair and 79 passengers flying to Bangkok from Paro in Bhutan. The flight was flagged off at Paro by S.M. Krishna, the Indian external affairs minister, and his Bhutanese counterpart Ugen Tshering.

“The flight from Bhutan to the Thai capital will have a stopover at Bagdogra. The service will further strengthen the excellent relationship between India and Bhutan and promote people-to-people contact,” Tshering Penjore, the general manager and head of ground operations, Drukair, said at a media conference at the airport here.

The official said the flight to Bangkok would arrive at Bagdogra twice a week — on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Conversely, the flight bound for Paro from Bangkok will land at Bagdogra on Wednesdays and Sundays.

“We plan to operate the planes in the morning, preferably between 8am and 9am. The exact timings will be finalised in the next few days. In-flight services will be of international standards with varieties of food on menu,” said Penjore.

He said the airline was offering promotional fares for the residents of this region. “We do not promote mass tourism. Our target is to get around 40,0000-50,000 visitors a year,” he said. “Our focus is on north Bengal and we want people in the region to visit our country located so close. Now that the air service has been introduced, we look forward to welcoming more people from the region.”

As of now, Drukair will charge Rs 1,500 for the Bagdogra-Paro trip and Rs 6,500 for a Bagdogra-Bangkok journey. “The fare for Bagdogra-Bangkok-Bagdogra will be Rs 10,000,” said the Drukair official. While it will take around 30 minutes to reach Paro from Bagdogra, the journey to Bangkok is two-hour long.

“We find that people from north Bengal go to Bhutan for one purpose or the other on a regular basis by road. Our plan is to tap around 40 per cent of them, who can avail of the air service now,” said Penjore.

Another factor, he said, that had led to introduction of the service was the refuelling of the aircraft. Air Turbine Fuel costs much in Bhutan, the reason being the higher transportation charge of carrying it to the country from India.

K.K. Bhowmik, the airport director here, appreciated the initiative of Drukair and said Bagdogra was ready with infrastructure to operate international flights.

“We are consistently upgrading the infrastructure and once the apron is extended, at least five-six aircraft can be accommodated,” he said.