Chencho Dema

Punakha—To make it convenient and accessible for the passengers, mostly highlanders of Lunana, the Drukair opened a new helipad at Jigmethang on the left bank of Punatshangchhu in Punakha.

The helipad was inaugurated on March 31.

The helipad, spread over 1.66 acres of leased land, has bench to sit and wait to board the helicopter, and toilets.

Earlier, the helicopter service operated out of Zomlithang in Punakha, a sandy field devoid of fencing or a proper landing pad, and which posed risks due to sand dust erosion of rotor blades, as well as stray animals and people playing in the vicinity.

The helipad was inaugurated on March 31

Tandi Wangchuk, the Chief Executive Officer of Drukair, said the main objective for establishing a helipad in Punakha was to facilitate highlanders travelling to Lunana from Punakha.

“Given that highlander migration is seasonal, we also facilitate other local charter, tourist charter, and helicopter emergency medical flights from Punakha. The implementation of a proper helipad will significantly enhance passenger safety,” he said.

The new helipad was established at over Nu. 11.2 million, including the construction of chain link fencing, restroom facilities, and waiting sheds for the passengers.

“Currently, we only have one helicopter available, and furthermore, the migration pattern is seasonal,” he said.

Since 2023, the helicopter service had completed a total of 815 flights earning approximately Nu. 141.7 million. The operations extended nationwide, serving 77 published destinations. Additionally, the helicopter emergency medical services had enabled landings in nearly every region of the country.

Helicopter services was operated on a charter basis rather than on a per-seat basis, allowing customers to charter the helicopter for their needs.

In Lunana, the helicopter serviced 7 different locations. The average charter fee from Punakha to Lunana was Nu. 104,800, with a payload capacity of 320kg in winter and 270kg in summer. The average charter fee from Paro to Lunana was Nu. 117,200, with a payload capacity of 280kg in winter and 240kg in summer.

Furthermore, highlanders benefitted from a 50% subsidy on the charter fee provided by the government.

Meanwhile, Drukair had acquired two new helicopters at a cost of approximately USD 8.5 million, with one expected to arrive in April and the other in September.

At the moment, there is only one helicopter, as the other one crashed at Wachey in Lunana last year.

The helicopter service was first established in 2015 and later merged with the Drukair.