Zero tourist arrivals under Air Bubble Travel

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Though the arrangement has earned Drukair Nu 6.4mn in revenue 

Since the start of the air bubble arrangement between Bhutan and India to enable flight operations between the two countries until normal international flights resume, revenue earned from the seven flights including to Bagdogra, Kolkata and Delhi has amounted to Nu 6.4mn.

The flights have transported 1,498 adults and 15 infants – mostly Bhutanese and expatriates while there are no records of tourists having traveled under the arrangement so far.

Drukair operated its first flight to Bagdogra on October 1. A minimum of 40 passengers is required for Drukair to break even on a return sector.

The announcements of commencement or cancellation of these flights are made one week before the flight date based on passenger load.

In an email interview with Business Bhutan, CEO of Drukair Tandi Wangcuk said that the air bubble travel arrangement signed with India has come as a relief for Drukair.

“This takes away the requirement of obtaining diplomatic clearances every time we need to fly into any city in India which was the case since the COVID-19 lockdown. The diplomatic clearance required the involvement of the offices of the Foreign Affairs of both the countries including the embassies which was a long, lengthy process,” said the CEO.

He mentioned that although this was just a fraction of what Drukair could have been doing, “they are grateful for every little revenue that trickles in during these trying times. As mentioned earlier, the biggest benefit out of this has been the ease in which we have been able to operate to benefit our traveling citizens.”

There is no limitation on the number of travelers allowed on the flights except for the available seats and that is dependent on the aircraft allocated for that particular sector.

If the maximum number of passengers on a return sector is less than 40, Drukair allocates the ATR to operate that sector if available. Beyond 40, the Airbus A319 is allocated. The maximum number of seats of 140 is on the new A320 JKW.

“While most travelers on these flights have been Bhutanese and expatriates, no recorded tourists are having traveled thus far under the arrangement,” the CEO said.

Drukair does not have a set criterion per se as long as the travel and health requirements of both the governments involved have been fulfilled.

Entry into India

All travelers should submit a self-declaration form along with a negative RT- PCR test certificate on the online portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) at least 72 hours before the scheduled travel.

Travelers may seek exemption from institutional quarantine by submitting a negative RT-PCR test report on arrival. This test should have been conducted within 96 hours before undertaking the journey. The test report should be uploaded on the portal for consideration. The test report could also be produced upon arrival at the point of entry airport in India.

Entry into Bhutan 

All foreigners entering Bhutan must produce a COVID-19 negative certificate at the time of boarding and port of arrival. However, migrant workers from India should produce a Rapid antigen test negative certificate if they do not have access to the RT-PCR testing.

The test must be carried out by the RT-PCR from a certified laboratory not earlier than 72 hours (three days) before leaving the country of origin.

All Bhutanese and foreigners have to undergo mandatory facility quarantine for 21 days and testing as per existing protocols of the Ministry of Health. While the cost of quarantine and testing and/or medical treatment, if required, for foreigners have to be borne by themselves.

Meanwhile, the Bhutanese returning home for the first time are not required to bear such costs. However, Bhutanese who exited Bhutan on their own volition during the pandemic after signing the “undertaking form”, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have to bear the costs of quarantine, testing, etc. as stipulated in the Undertaking Form, when they return to Bhutan.

Safety protocols followed inside the flight

During the operation of these flights, to prevent transmission, Drukair continues to adopt the stringent of health safety measures. Since the outbreak of COVID19, Airbus issued a bulletin to use AMS 1453 disinfectant on aircrafts (Airbus and ATR).

“Drukair cleans all aircrafts with Lizol disinfectant cleaner and then disinfects  with AMS 1453 disinfectant after every chartered relief flight. This is above and beyond the requirements of any health authority worldwide,” added the CEO.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu

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