Aviation: The government has selected the H130 chopper manufactured by Airbus to begin helicopter services in Bhutan.

The government will purchase two H130 helicopters at a total cost of around Nu 459.9M (million) or USD 7.3M. Each helicopter will cost around Nu 226.8M or USD 3.65M.

The H130 will be capable of fire fighting and medical evacuation besides transportation of passengers and cargo.

The decision to select the H130 was made by the cabinet, yesterday, following which a letter of intent or a commitment to purchase was also made to Airbus officials in Thimphu.

“After approval of the cabinet today, signed the Letter of Intent (LoI) with the vice president of customers of Airbus,” said finance minister Namgay Dorji on Facebook, yesterday. “Hopefully the government should be able to launch the much awaited helicopter service in Bhutan to commemorate the 60th Birth Anniversary of Drukgyal Zhipa ‘the great fourth’,” lyonpo added.

The first H130 is expected to be delivered prior to November 11, when the government expects to launch helicopter services.

The second one will be delivered sometime mid next year, said a finance ministry official, who asked not be named.

The official said that the H130, formerly known as the Eurocopter, was found to be the most suitable for Bhutan.

Three of four solicited companies had bid for the contract. The government selected the European manufacturer Airbus Helicopters from among American company Bell helicopter, Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland, and US based Enstrom, which did not submit a bid, following a technical evaluation by a committee.

With the national airline Drukair also using Airbus aircrafts, the association may have played a significant role in the company’s selection.

The costs of the H130s is not inclusive of operation and maintenance, which means pilots and engineers are not included.

The finance official said that the government is seeking a package deal from Airbus and that the second phase will involve negotiations on this aspect. However, dependent on costs, the government may also opt to look for operation and maintenance support elsewhere, said the official.

It was also added that the hiring of expatriate pilots and engineers is an interim measure until Bhutanese are trained.

Discussions on the helicopter services had been ongoing for the past two months.

The bid to introduce helicopter services was one of the government’s pledges.

The H130 is a light weight single engine helicopter that can seat up to one pilot and seven passengers, according to information on the Airbus Helicopters website.

The helicopter also offers adjustable seating to accommodate one stretcher, two medical attendants and one additional seat. The helicopter is also popular with air medical services as its cabin is capable of accommodating up to two stretchers and two attendants.

It is one of the quietest helicopters in its category with a shrouded tail rotor and a noise signature of 7 decibels below International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements, it says on the website.

The H130 is also equipped with a visual flight rules day-and-night navigation system that is associated with a global positioning system display.

Gyalsten K Dorji