However, the opposition disagreed on grounds of maintenance costs and depreciation

NC: Of 143 flights flown by the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service (RBHS) in the last six months, 38 flights were used for medical services.

The rest were made for government official tours, tourists and for public services.

This is as per the report presented by the information and communication minister, DN Dungyel during the question hour session at the National Assembly yesterday.

In response to a question raised by the Boomdeling-Jamkhar MP, Dupthob, the minister said that the helicopter made 38 trips for medical services in bringing critical patients from different dzongkhags to the Thimphu referral hospital. Also the helicopter was used four times for fighting forest fires in Thimphu and the Chuzom-Haa areas.

The minister also added that the helicopter service was used 31 times for official tours, which included eight flights by the Prime Minister, five by other ministers and eight flights by state guests to go around the country.

The general public also availed the helicopter service 32 times in the last six months and the helicopter was hired by tourists 36 times.

Lyonpo DN Dungyel informed the house that in the last four months the helicopter service’s monthly expenditure  was Nu 5.5 million (M). However, the service had also generated around Nu 6.5M every month, thereby making a net profit of more than 1M a month.

However, a member of the opposition, MP Kinga Tshering of North Thimphu said the helicopter service is running on a loss. He said that of some 150 flights undertaken by the RBHS, only around eight percent of the flights were used for medical services.

Kinga Tshering said the helicopter was purchased at Nu 240M and if the maintenance cost and depreciation were calculated even for 10 years, there is already a loss of Nu 7M in the last four months.

The MP added that besides running on a loss, the helicopter was also not fulfilling its basic mandate of providing medical services to the people.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay responded that although providing medical services was one of the main reasons for purchasing the helicopter, it wasn’t the only reason.

“Providing medical assistance was one of our prime objectives while purchasing the helicopter. Of the total 143 flights made by the chopper, 38 flights were used for medical emergencies which is 27 percent of the total usage so far,” said Lyonchoen.

Lyonchoen said that the helicopter had other services to address such as at times of emergencies like natural calamities including services for security reasons.

Prime Minister said even though Drukair started some 30 years ago, it still needed the government’s support of Nu 165M annually.

“The helicopter service, which started a just few months ago, and has already been making some profit, but it looks like it is enough. I will request the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Ltd to look into the matter and see what they can do to improve the profit generation,” said Lyonchoen.

Domestic users can avail the helicopter service at Nu 178,000 per hour and for those in rural areas, RBHS offers a discounted rate of Nu 64,600 an hour. For tourists, the service can be availed at USD 5,250 per hour.

Meanwhile, the country’s second helicopter is expected to arrive in the country on June 21.

Younten Tshedup