DAVID FULLBROOK / SINGAPORE
Bhutan's Druk Air may opt for Airbus A319s as its order for two BAE Systems RJX-85s looks unlikely to be filled after the UK manufacturer's programme was abandoned in late November.
The remote Himalayan nation's government will consider a recommendation by the Druk board after a visit by BAE executives this week, says the airline's general manager commercial, Tandin Jamso.
It seems likely Druk will opt for A319s or regional jets rather than join British European in threatening to hold BAE to the RJX contract (Flight International, 4-10 December).
The carrier would like to fly further afield than its destinations of Bangkok, Calcutta, Dhaka, Kathmandu, New Delhi and Yangon (formerly Rangoon) but does not have the option with its two British Aerospace 146-100s, says Jamso. To offset the costs of operating larger aircraft, Druk may also look at the charter market.
Only visual approaches are possible at Paro, Bhutan's international airport, 7,300ft (2,200m) above sea level in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains as high as 16,400ft. An Airbus technical team has visited Druk, recommending the A319 as its more powerful engines provide a larger safety margin than the smaller A318.
One aircraft would be taken initially, with the second following a year later depending on demand. Both would be dry leased, according to Jamso.
Bhutan's government hoped to begin phasing out the 146s with new aircraft next April. But now, with secondhand 146s attracting only low prices, Druk may convert one or both to freighters.
Despite a sharp drop tourism since September's terrorist attacks in the USA, Druk, the only carrier serving the country, still expects to make a profit this year.