Meet Air Timor: A Southeast Asian Carrier Leasing Druk Air Planes

Many of us have a list of airlines we’d like to travel on. Some lean towards the lavish, others the exotic. Air Timor ticks the later box. East Timor’s national airline doesn’t have lounges and doesn’t do glitz. But it does usually charter Airbus A319s from Druk Air to operate a scheduled service from Singapore to one of the world’s more unknown countries. It’s a combination that could pique your interest.

Air Timor’s flights between Singapore and Dili are operated by Druk Air A319s. Photo: Airbus

East Timor is a tough place to get to

East Timor is not the most accessible place in the world to get to. In usual times, there are flights into East Timor from Denpasar, Darwin, or Singapore.

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The few airlines that usually fly into East Timor head into Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport near the country’s capital of Dili. In addition to Air Timor, Dili’s airport normally hosts Citilink, NAMAir, Transnusa, Sriwijaya Air, and Air North.

It’s the Singapore flights that caught Simple Flying’s attention. They are currently suspended. However, The Observador is reporting these flights may resume in September or October. If you are the type of traveler who enjoys a little airline exotica, this flight hits the jackpot.

Not only will you be traveling to an off the beaten track country none of your mates have ever been to, but you’ll also be flying on an airline none of them have heard of. Topping it all, the Air Timor flights between Singapore and Dili uses a chartered A319 from Bhutan’s Druk Air.

Air Timor does a deal with Bhutan’s Druk Air

From a commercial perspective, flying into East Timor has always been a tricky business. Several airlines, including Singapore’s Silk Air, have tried and failed to make a go of it. East Timor’s homegrown international airline doesn’t have any aircraft (which helps keeps costs down). Rather, Air Timor charters planes, and that’s where the Druk Air A319s come in.

Last year, after Silk Air left East Timor, the already slender list of cities with direct connections to Dili further shrunk. East Timor needed to maintain a direct service into a key southeast Asian city such as Singapore.

Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in East Timor. Photo: David Stanley via Flickr

Coming from the opposite direction, Bhutan’s Druk Air was overnighting its planes in Singapore. Owing to the unique challenges of flying in Bhutan, aircraft cannot land in Paro after dark. As a result, Druk Air’s planes had a lot of inefficient nighttime downtime.

So a deal was done. The Druk Air flights from Paro via Guwahati landed into Singapore in the evening. Rather than sitting idle, Air Timor chartered the aircraft to continue down to Dili. The flights left Singapore on Thursdays and Sundays at the rather ungodly hour of 03:30 for the three and a half hour flight south. The return flights fly out of Dili mid-morning on Thursdays and Sundays, landing into Singapore at lunchtime. The aircraft continues onto Paro, arriving by the nighttime curfew.

Singapore flights a win for everybody

The deal was a win for everybody. Druk Air got to utilize a plane efficiently, East Timor got a critical connection, and Air Timor got a flight it could sell. But the Singapore flights were suspended on March 30.

Border restrictions and quarantine requirements in both Singapore and East Timor are hindering attempts to restart the service. However, both Air Timor and the East Timorese Government are keen to see the flights resume. A September or October resumption date is mooted.

Air Timor is keen for its Singapore flights to resume. Photo: Air Timor News Room

There is an added layer of complexity. Singaporean interests have brought the previously locally owned Air Timor. New International Timor Airways now owns 80% of Air Timor’s shares. Singapore’s Edward Ong owns that company. The deal with Druk Air will need to be renegotiated. But reports indicate all parties are keen to get back on board.

Right now, only Air North is linking East Timor to the outside world, flying in thrice-weekly from Darwin, Australia.

Keeping East Timor connected is pushing Air Timor to get their Singapore flights back in the air sooner rather than later. It’s one flight that should make it onto everyone’s bucket list.