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Bhutan seeks spproval for direct flights to Pokhara and Bhairahawa

KATHMANDU: Bhutan, a country with regular flights at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, has recently approached Nepal for permission to operate direct flights to Bhairahawa and Pokhara as well.

The request was made by the ‘Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority,’ a division of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport of Bhutan. In a letter sent to Pradeep Adhikari, the director-general of Nepal’s aviation authority, on Friday, Bhutan expressed its desire to commence direct commercial flights to these two cities in Nepal.

According to a reliable source within the authority, Bhutan Airlines, which has been operating flights in Nepal for many years, faces no technical obstacles in launching flights to the new international airports. The aviation authority is supportive of expediting the approval process for the two airlines designated by the Bhutanese government.

The move comes as Bhutan anticipates a substantial influx of Buddhist tourists who can benefit from the convenience of direct flights to these new destinations in Nepal.

A source from the director general’s secretariat confirmed that Bhutan’s relevant ministry has expressed its willingness to facilitate and grant the necessary permissions. In the official letter, Bhutan highlighted that international flights on these routes would be particularly convenient for tourists from countries other than Nepal and Bhutan.

It is worth noting that a bilateral air agreement between the two countries, signed a decade ago, allows for 218,000 seats per year. Currently, Tribhuvan International Airport hosts 30 airlines, including two international carriers from Bhutan.

Despite seven months of operation, Pokhara International Airport has yet to receive approval for regular flights from foreign airlines. However, Bhutan Airlines, with its route capabilities, faces no obstacles in operating flights to this airport, as it can access Bhutan via the Gulf-348 route through the skies of Eastern Elam, connecting to Pokhara through Kathmandu.

Similarly, there are no airspace issues for the Bhairahawa-Bhutan (Paro) flight route. Presently, Druk Air operates four flights a week using ATR and Airbus A-319 aircraft, connecting 10 Asian destinations, including Nepal, with Bhutan’s capital, Thimpu. Bhutan Air operates two Paro-Kathmandu flights using Airbus A-319, serving five Asian cities, including Kathmandu. At Bhairahawa International Airport, which commenced operations a year ago, Jazeera Air and Nepal Airlines Corporation of Kuwait are currently operating international flights.

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