A unique policy of ‘High value, low volume tourism’ upheld the nation’s vision of keeping its pristine environment, centuries old tradition and culture intact and alive. In the ensuing decades, as more and more people grew intrigued with this tiny kingdom that put Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product and embraced democracy as a gift from the monarchy itself, there was increasing pressure to open the doors wide. This posed a serious dilemma as the country was landlocked, straddling the eastern Himalayas.
There was the need to open up the skies. And so, the concept of a national airline was born on April 5, 1981. Drukair began operations on February 11, 1983, from Paro, a picturesque valley in western Bhutan, a 65 km drive away from the capital, Thimphu. At the time, Paro had a little airstrip servicing helicopter operations. Drukair began humbly with a 18-seat Dornier 228-200 that made its historic touch down at Paro airport on January 14, 1983, to the chant of inauguration prayers, cymbals, conches and the like, with maroon-clad monks blessing the occasion and the plane. The first link was Kolkata, followed by six destinations in South Asia, including Bangkok. As more and more people took to the skies, not just to connect but also to enjoy perhaps the most breath-taking view of the Himalayan range, including Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and the highest un-climbed mountains in Bhutan itself, another Dornier was added to meet the increasing demand.
The BAe 146 Era
Drukair upgraded its planes to the new BAe 146 on November 21, 1988, when the first plane touched down at Paro with the same traditional fanfare. The airline was now going regional with linkages to New Delhi, Kathmandu and Bangkok. All the pilots and maintenance crew were trained at the best institutes abroad while the flight attendants were trained by Thai Airways. A few years later, the runway at Paro airport was extended to 2,000 meters and reinforced to accommodate heavier aircraft. A second BAe 146 became part of the evolution of Drukair. Today, the fleet has been further upgraded to two Airbus 319s operating six international destinations. Drukair is now a professional corporate entity under the aegis of the Druk Holdings Investment of the royal government. The hallmark of Drukair is safety first and the best of comforts therein for travelers. As the nation opens up more to tourism and gradually steps into the global village, Drukair leaves no stone un-turned in ensuring that every passenger, for most of whom the first glimpse of Bhutan is aboard on Drukair, gets the best impression of Bhutan. That is considered a sacred responsibility for Drukair.
The Airbus Era
Further, owing to much increase in the commercial demand, Drukair and the Royal Government of Bhutan considered it necessary to upgrade the Drukair fleet with newer generation commercial aircraft with increased capacity and performance abilities. The management thus, met up with compatible manufactures that could serve Paro airport and finally brought it down to two manufactures, Boeing and Airbus. After both having done demonstration flights at Paro International Airport, decision was finally made to purchase two Airbus A319. With the purchase contract agreement signed and payments finally made, Drukair purchased and Airbus delivered two A319 in the largest transaction the country had ever taken. The final delivery of the A319 was made on December 3, 2004 and as of now, both the Airbus are operational.
Druk-Air is the only airline that serves Paro. So all visitors to Bhutan are initiated into the kingdom in its care. The flight into Paro is one of the most spectacular in the world. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Kathmandu or over the foothills from Calcutta or Dhaka, each flight is mesmerizing aeronautical feat and offers an exciting descent into the kingdom.
For Bhutan a landlocked country the importance of aviation is paramount to the development of the country in enhancing the economic well being of the people as well as fostering quicker communications in the fastest growing region. Drukair is committed to bringing the world closer to the Land of the Thunder Dragon.