The Gasa dzongkhag tshogdu, during the recent meeting, decided to write to the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services to seek clarification on its fares and to request an increase in the subsidy provided to the people of Lunana.

The decision was made after Lunana gup, Kaka, raised concerns on fluctuating rates, specifically, an increase in rates despite an increase in demand for trips to Lunana.

Gup Kaka said a group of five people have to pay Nu 76,000 per trip from Paro to Lunana and Nu 109,000 while flying from Punakha to Lunana. “People are requesting for the possibility of reducing the hiring charges to Nu 50,000 per trip for a group of five people while travelling from Punakha to Lunana,” the gup said.

He said when the helicopter service was introduced, people were told that the hiring charges would gradually decrease if the number of trips made to the same place increase. “But there were no changes in hiring charges despite high demand.”

The gup said people were also concerned thatthe number of passengers per trip was reduced from six to five, resulting in an increase in fare for each individual.

He said the helicopter service has eased the lives of the Lunaps, especially the elderly, patients and children. “But since everyone in Lunana does not have money, people decided to request a reduction in the charges.”

Records with the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service show that more than 40 trips have been made to Lunana, making it the gewog with the highest demand for helicopter services in the country.

Gup Kaka said at least seven medical evacuations have been carried out using the helicopter service.

He said people mostly hire helicopters during the winter when they move down to Punakha for three months and also while returning to Lunana. “The passes along the Gasa-Lunana route are always blocked by snow in winter, making it difficult for people to travel and transport commodities.”

However, since the helicopter service is expensive, people mostly hire it for their elderly parents and children.

As per information available on the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services website, the charges levied on the people of Lunana and similar remote areas is already subsidise. “For local and government chartered flights, it costs more than 181,000 for an hour. For tourists, the rate is Nu 350,000 per hour,” the website states.

Dawa Gyelmo