Soaring through the sky, on possibly the world’s most spectacular flight, the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas come into view. On our left is Everest, the “top of the world,” accompanied by a vast panorama of the Earth’s highest mountains. We are headed for Paro, the only international airport in the Kingdom of Bhutan, aboard Druk Air, the Royal Bhutanese Airline. The word Druk means “Dragon,” and our flying dragon is the only airline allowed to enter the country.
As we approach Paro, our plane drops steeply down and enters a deep valley,
weaving its way between the mountains in a breathtaking and slightly
scary descent to a smooth landing at the little airport, originally built
by the British military. And then we are there, walking across the concrete
to the small terminal building and our first visit to the “Shangri-La” country
Druk Air was established by Royal Proclamation in 1981 and began operations
in 1983 when its first plane, an 18-seat German Dornier 228-220, landed
at Paro carrying the Royal Flag of the Kingdom. The airline, whose fleet
now consists of four aircraft, two British Aerospace 70 passenger BAe146-100’s
and two new 124 passenger Airbus A319’s, is the smallest national
carrier in the world.
All takeoffs and landings at Paro are by Visual Flight Rules (VFR). This
means that the pilot must be able to see the runway and all of the surrounding
hills. He cannot land or take off using instruments. No flights operate
at night or in poor visibility. Flights can sometimes be delayed up to
a day or two due to inclement weather. The airline operates from Paro
to six cities: Bangkok and Calcutta, four times a week, Katmandu and
New Delhi, twice a week, and Dhaka and Yangon, once a week. Flights from
Bangkok make a stop to take on extra fuel in case they cannot land at
Paro and have to return. Druk Air’s safety record is perfect—they
have been flying for twenty-three years and never had an accident!
After going through immigration, (they have a photo on file of everyone
scheduled to enter their country), and meeting our tour guide, we look
back and see the airport staff closing the airport—after all, on
most days there is only one flight in and one flight out of the country.
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