Bhutan's national airline loses another aircraft

One day after a major bird strike grounded one of its aircraft, the national airline has lost another aircraft to a technical problem, causing flight cancellations, added schedule disruptions, and high financial losses.

Drukair's leased twin propellor ATR aircraft was grounded late Sunday, after engineers discovered faulty wheel bearings on one of its landing gear.

The grounding comes one day after one of the airline's airbus jets sustained enough damage to ground it for a week, as a result of a bird strike on Friday. The airline will now be operating with its last remaining 114-seater airbus jet.

The airline has cancelled two flights so far: its Monday and Wednesday Kolkata flights. The two flights will now operate along with its Kathmandu flights today and Thursday.

Drukair commercial manager, Tshering Penjor, said that the ATR aircraft is expected to be repaired and flying again by Thursday. If not, more flight cancellations may occur on Friday, he said. But the airline is also hopeful that its grounded airbus will be flying by Friday.

Tshering Penjor pointed out that further investigation of the aircraft's port or left engine revealed no internal damage. A number of fan blades and landing lights situated on one of the aircraft's wing and landing gear were damaged, when the aircraft flew through a flock of pigeons upon take off. While the lights have already been repaired, the fan blades are expected to arrive today.

The engine's cowling or covering also sustained dents from the bird strike, and will have to be replaced. The airline will fly its airbus to Bangkok for this replacement. Tshering Penjor said that, while dents on the engine cowling would allow the aircraft to fly, no passengers would be ferried on this flight because of airline regulations.

As of yesterday, about 100 passengers have been affected by the flight schedule disruptions, according to Drukair. "From the commercial point of view, the pressure's quite huge," said Tshering Penjor. "Obviously this is going to have a huge financial bearing for the company," he added. He said that the airline would know its total expenditure only once both its grounded aircraft are back in the air. Each passenger, who has and will be affected, will cost a minimum of USD 100, he said.

The airline has been bearing costs for accommodation and rescheduling for onward tickets, said Tshering Penjor. Drukair has also purchased tickets for some of its stranded student passengers, he said. "We're sharing some form of liability for passengers, who have onward connections; in any airline that isn't (the airline's) responsibility," he pointed out.

But he also pointed out that the airline was limited in its assistance for passengers, who had restricted onward tickets.