ADB, Bhutan to Boost Tourism, Jobs with Airport Upgrades

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will help Bhutan upgrade three domestic airports, boosting the country’s fast-growing tourist trade and opening up new employment opportunities in some of the country’s poorest districts.

The nearly $7 million grant for the Air Transport Connectivity Enhancement Project will fund infrastructure improvements at Bumthang, Gelephu, and Yonphula airports located in the center, south, and east of the country, respectively. The measures will include expanding terminal space and aircraft parking areas, new perimeter fencing, air rescue and firefighting services, navigational and communication aids, and drainage and flood protection systems.

“The current facilities are fairly basic and with air transport activity in Bhutan set to expand significantly as a result of the government’s push to bring tourists to the country, there is a pressing need for improvements,” said Dong-Kyu Lee, Senior Transport Specialist in ADB’s South Asia Department. “Better connections will lead to new opportunities for private businesses and employment in poor areas where development is badly needed.”

Safer and more efficient airports in the relatively isolated center, south and east of the country will improve links to markets and help promote more evenly distribute economic development opportunities, which are currently mainly centered mainly around the capital Thimphu in the west of Bhutan.

The project will also help cut travel time and provide better access to emergency services for people in areas where road accessibility is poor. Bhutan’s small population, mountainous terrain and formidable weather conditions make it difficult and expensive to build and maintain transport infrastructure, especially roads.

ADB is currently providing capacity development technical assistance to improve aviation regulations and oversight of airport operations so that the benefits of the upgrades will be sustained.

The grant, from ADB’s concessional Asian Development Fund, will fund 91% of the cost of the $7.6 million project, with the government providing the balance. The project will run for nearly four years with an estimated completion date of June 2016.