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The launch of the first privately owned airline in Bhutan, a small Himalayan kingdom dubbed the land of happiness, has had significant connections with Thailand.
It chose Bangkok as the destination for its maiden flight out of Paro, home to Bhutan’s only international airport, last Thursday and is operating a scheduled daily service.
It is using Suvarnabhumi airport as its hub by basing its sole 144-seat A320-200 single-aisle jet there.
The airline relies on aircraft engineering, ground handling and in-flight catering services provided by Thai Airways International, Thailand’s flag carrier.
Its marketing effort is also largely conducted through OMG Experience Co, a Bangkok-based travel company that serves as its general sales agent.
“Thailand has a well-established aviation industry and Bangkok is a principal source of traffic coming to Bhutan,” said David Young, chief executive of Bhutan Airlines, owned by Tashi Air Pvt, a subsidiary of Bhutan’s 38-firm diversified conglomerate Tashi.
Most international visitors tend to travel to the Himalayan kingdom, which has a population of just over 600,000, via the Thai capital, where until recently they took connecting flights to Paro only offered by Drukair.
Bhutan last year attracted about 150,000 visitors, up 60% from the previous year after intensive promotion of tourism, its main source of revenue.
The top four nationalities arriving last year were Japanese (16%), US (14%), Chinese (9%) and Thai (8%).
Bhutan’s old-world charm, beautiful mountainous landscape and Buddhist temples and monasteries have also contributed to rising numbers of Thai visitors.
While Bhutan Airlines’s current services are limited to Bangkok-Paro via Kolkata, where aircraft stop for refuelling, it is looking at adding Kathmandu and Dhaka to the loop next year, Mr Young told the Bangkok Post.
The plan is based on the capacity provided by its single aircraft under “wet” lease from Small Planet Airlines (SPA), a Lithuania-based charter flight operator.
The aircraft is being operated mostly by SPA crew and some Bhutanese.
A second A320-200 that the airline plans to acquire over the next two years will support its network expansion, which includes Hong Kong.
Looking further ahead, it plans to link Dubai with Bhutan, Mr Young said.
Bhutan Airlines will be aiming to capture a load factor of 50-60% in its first year of flight operation and does not expect its balance sheet to turn black within five years. “It’s modest but realistic,” Mr Young said.Bhutan Airlines is offering fares about 10-15% less than those of Drukair, according to Mr Young.
Its economy-class fares start from 22,230 baht for a round trip, with premium class starting at 23,790 baht.
(c)2013 the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services