Buddha reaches land of Thunder Dragon

 

Buddha Air on Monday began commercial flights to Paro, Bhutan with its 18-seater Beechcraft 1900D. The carrier is the first international airline to enter Bhutan.

The Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation cleared Buddha Air for class C airspace. Buddha will use the hour-long Kathmandu-Kakarvitta-Sikkim airlane.

“We will be run four flights a week,” said Buddha Air managing director Birendra Bahadur Basnet. The airline has gone international after 13 years of domestic service.

Basnet said that Bhutan aims to draw 100,000 high-end tourists by 2012. Around 20 percent of these potential visitors are expected to enter Bhutan through Kathmandu. With the entry of Buddha Air, the monopoly of Druk Air in the Paro-Kathmandu sector has ended. Druk Air is Bhutan’s national flag carrier. Buddha Air also plans to connect Bagdogra of India from Paro under 5fth Freedom Rights as per the Air Service Agreement (ASA) between Nepal and Bhutan.

In 2002, Buddha Air’s craft had made over 100 flights to Paro for Druk Air when Druk’s aircraft was grounded for maintenance. Nepali pilots flew on the route.

Buddha Air has offered an introductory fare on the Kathmandu-Paro sector. One-way tickets each costs US$ 128 for tourists and US$ 78 for Nepali, Indian and Bhutanese travellers. The offer is valid until September-end, said Rupesh Joshi, senior marketing manager of Buddha Air.

After that date, a one-way ticket will cost US$ 228 for tourists while Nepali Indian and Bhutanese travellers’ air fare will be fixed of NRs. 60 per US dollar. Class D Nepali passengers’ fare will be US$ 120. Joshi said the fare would be revised periodically based on market demand.

The airline will also start operations on the Kathmandu-Lucknow and Kathmandu-Kolkata routes from Nov. 7 and Oct. 1, respectively. Buddha Air will be connecting to seven Indian cities by the end of 2011. In the first phase, it will link to Lucknow, Kolkata and Patna by 2010; in the second phase it will be Varanasi, Guwahati, Dehradun and Delhi by the end of 2011.

Buddha Air will connect these cities via regional airports. However, until these airports are upgraded to handle international flights the carrier will operate from Kathmandu. Nepal and India revised the air service agreement in September 2009, increasing the number of weekly flight seats to 30,000 and opening 10 new destinations. Nepali airlines are permitted to fly to 21 destinations in India.

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