Aviation: In a historic development for the aviation industry in Bhutan, the country’s first helicopter sporting the country’s national flag, touched down at Paro international airport, yesterday.

The helicopter, an Airbus H130, arrives ahead of a November 4 expected delivery date. The helicopter services are on schedule to be launched on November 5.

The helicopter was assembled, painted and tested in Singapore. It began its journey to Bhutan on October 27. It stopped over in Thailand, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, before reaching Bhutan. Upon entering Bhutanese airspace, the helicopter landed at the Gelephu domestic airport to refuel before heading to Paro airport.

The chairman of the helicopter board, Cabinet Secretary Kinzang Wangdi, was on board the helicopter. He joined the flight crew as a passenger from Dhaka, Bangladesh. The flight crew consisted of two test pilots and one engineer working for Airbus Helicopters. One of the Airbus pilots was the CEO of Airbus Helicopters.

The helicopter can accommodate up to seven passengers, excluding the pilot.

The chairman, who had never flown in a helicopter prior, said that he was initially nervous but that the flight had been “pleasant”, quiet and comfortable. He also pointed out that it was quite an experience given the panoramic view as a result of the large wrap-around windscreen and wide windows.

Kinzang Wangdi said it is  significant that Bhutan is receiving its first helicopter and will be introducing its services on the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

The government plans to use the helicopters for search and rescue, air medical evacuations, fire fighting, moving cargo, transport of VIPs and government officials, and possibly even for tourism, among others.

The helicopter will be undergoing proving flights in the next few days as required by the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority. Flights could occur to other parts of the country.

News of the helicopter’s arrival was welcomed by citizens on social media with many offering their congratulations. Many posted and shared photos of the helicopter.

The helicopter will be based at the old hangar at Paro airport, which is the headquarters of the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Ltd (RBHS). The state-owned company has already recruited a pilot recommended by Airbus, and a helicopter engineer from India. Both have already started working for the company.

The second helicopter is expected to arrive sometime mid-next year.

Gyalsten K Dorji