The company’s first helicopter is due to arrive on November 4

Aviation: The Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Ltd (RBHS) was established in Paro, yesterday.

The state owned company expects to launch helicopter services on November 11, to commemorate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, who inaugurated the company that is located at the old hangar at Paro airport, said helicopters would allow Bhutan to overcome its geographical challenges.

Lyonchoen pointed out that as a land locked country Bhutan did not have the luxury of having goods and services delivered via the ocean or waterways. He added that as a result it had to depend on land based transport services, as even its rivers were too rapid for any transportation uses.

Despite more than 10,000km of roads being built since 1961, of which more than 2,000km are farm roads, the country’s geographical terrain is still a challenge, Lyonchoen said. To overcome this, the government is focusing on improving transport with air services, he added.

Lyonchoen pointed out that the two airlines combined had carried more than 240,000 passengers last year. He said that domestic air services had also contributed to enhancing the transport sector, however, he added that given the geographical terrain there was limited scope for building more airports.

The Department of Air Transport is currently identifying helipads around the country. According to the 2010 domestic air services request for proposals document, there are at least 40 operations helipads of various standards in 18 dzongkhags.
Lyonchoen reiterated that the helicopters would prove useful during emergencies and natural disasters.

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 government currently relies on the Indian army and air force, and at times, helicopters from Nepal, for medical evacuations, among others.

The CEO for the helicopter company was also officially appointed yesterday.

Chhewang Gyeltshen, a former government and Drukair employee is the company’s CEO. He served as an airworthiness officer with the erstwhile Department of Civil Aviation for 10 years and as the general manager for flight operations with the national airline for three years.

Speaking to Kuensel, Chhewang Gyeltshen said that it is a “huge honour” but also a “huge challenge” to be appointed the first CEO of the first helicopter company in Bhutan. “I’m willing to take this challenge because I feel I can really contribute with the kind of background I have,” he said.

He explained that besides having to establish the company from scratch in time for a November launch, finding the required personnel was a significant challenge. “Right now when you look at the job market in Bhutan there’s nobody with that skill which suits our company,” he said, referring to helicopter pilots and engineers.

As a result, the company has requested Airbus to include two pilots and two engineers with the helicopters as part of a package deal. Chhewang Gyeltshen said that this is how Drukair also solved its lack of trained and qualified personnel problem when it first received its Airbus A319 in 2004.

He added that it would take a few years for Bhutanese pilots to be trained and have the necessary number of flight hours to be qualified and confident to operate in Bhutan’s challenging terrain.

He said that while helicopter services may be a new service and concept, a helicopter company, in terms of personnel and management is similar to that of an airline. “Of course, the requirements are different but it’s not that the difference is huge, the difference is similar so fundamentally and conceptually I have an idea of how to run the helicopter services.”

However he pointed out that specific areas and services, like fire fighting and sling operations, would have to be acquired later on with Airbus personnel assistance. He added that such specific areas require specific expertise.

The first helicopter is scheduled to arrive on November 4 and the second one either in May or June, next year.

The government is paying Nu 459.9 million (M) or USD 7.3M for the two helicopters. Each helicopter is costing the government Nu 226.8M or USD 3.65M. A concession of USD 559,600 had been obtained following negotiations.

The government’s equity in the helicopter services is Nu 600 million.

Yab Dhondup Gyaltshen, information and communications minister DN Dhungyel, finance minister Namgay Dorji, information secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji, chairman of the helicopter board Kinzang Wangdi and other senior government officials also attended the launch ceremony.

Gyalsten K Dorji