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Druk Air revives suspended fleet renewal effort

NICHOLAS IONIDES / SINGAPORE

Bhutan's Druk Air has reopened fleet-renewal studies that were suspended late last year and is again considering an order for two Airbus A319s, Boeing 737-700s or Embraer 190s.

General manager commercial Tandin Jamso says the fleet revamp studies were dropped on instructions from the government, which owns the carrier - one of the smallest national airlines in the world, with a fleet of just two BAe 146s.

"After we did quite a few studies we were told to put things on hold for a while, but we have now been told to start the evaluation again," he says.

"We are hoping we can make a decision by the end of May or in June." In February last year Airbus demonstrated an A319 in Bhutan and it was the largest aircraft ever to land at Paro Airport, which is 7,300ft (2,230m) above sea level and surrounded by high Himalayan peaks. Boeing was unable to demonstrate its 737-700 last year, putting it at a disadvantage in the competition, but Jamso says the manufacturer managed to do so last month when it operated a 737-700-based Boeing Business Jet to Bhutan.

Druk is also considering the Embraer 190, which is still in development, says Jamso. He adds that Bombardier told Druk its CRJ900 would not be suitable for operations to Paro and so it is not a contender.

"Bombardier instead offered us their Dash 8 Q400, but we are not keen on that," says Jamso.

Druk wants to replace its BAe 146s by the end of the year although Jamso says the carrier accepts that it may not be able to secure delivery positions before 2004. After it takes an internal decision on which aircraft it wants to order, various government departments must give their approval.

Jamso says the carrier prefers to purchase aircraft but "we are keeping the option open for leasing".

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