Phub Dem

Following the Royal Command to establish new air ambulance bases in Gelephu and Mongar, Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service Limited (RBHSL) is preparing to begin the operation service from April.

The chief executive officer, Chewang Gyeltshen, said establishing the bases will take some time and they are considering short-term regional operation from Bumthang airport as it has adequate facilities to support helicopter operation.

He said RBHSL would deploy one helicopter to Bumthang to begin the regional operation to support medical emergencies after establishing basic facilities. “We requested the health ministry to train Bhutan emergency aeromedical retrieval (BEAR) team in these regional bases.”

He said that the air ambulance bases in Mongar and Gelephu will be established once the basic infrastructures are in place.

According to RBHSL officials, Gelephu does not have hangar and helicopter fuel suppliers like Bumthang and Paro airport and Mongar has a landing pad but does not have other facilities.

Chewang Gyeltshen said it would take some time to establish the bases, but medical emergency flights to these referral hospitals will begin in April, anticipating the second wave of omicron virus.

“We are hoping to start using new helicopter from July 2023,” he said.

He added that RBHSL was working closely with the Ministry of Finance and the board to begin the regional operations as establishing new regional offices requires significant capital investment and operational expenses.

RBHSL will also deploy dedicated team for flying, maintenance, and handling passengers from existing staff for the short term.

Chewang Gyeltshen said that the office would recruit employees for regional expansions after the arrival of the new helicopters. “With close to seven years of operational experience, we have sufficient technical expertise. The regional expansion is also a part of the company’s strategic plan.”

Meanwhile, besides medical evacuations and emergency services, the regional bases will engage in commercial charters for business sustenance.

According to RBHSL, the estimated capital expenditure worth more than Nu 7.50million is required to build hangar, establish offices and procure helicopter fuel refuellers for the regional expansion. The estimated operational monthly expenses will be about Nu 0.90 million.

The H130 Airbus helicopter has the carrying capacity of six passengers and one pilot.

In the past, RBHSL provided helicopter services for airlifting of Covid-19 sample vaccines,  operated medical emergency flights to the red zones in the south to airlift patients, and airlifting medical staff for nationwide vaccination programmes.