Service will be free in times of emergencies

Aviation: Common citizens affected by natural calamities and facing emergencies in the country will not be charged if the services of the government’s helicopter are required.

The information and communications minister, DN Dhungyel during the question hour session of the Parliament yesterday said that during emergencies all the expenses for the helicopter services would be borne by the health ministry and the Department of Disaster Management.

“In the past during times of natural disasters, we used to hire helicopter services from outside,” the minister said. “Ordinary individuals never had to pay for the services,” he added. “This will remain the same with this air service of the government.”

However, the minister added that while the public mandate remains the priority of the helicopter service, it would be made available for tourists and others who would like to use it for other purposes.

Lyonpo DN Dhungyel said that tourists would be charged around USD 5,000 per hour. Purchased at a cost of Nu 240 million, the helicopter will cost around Nu 160,000 per hour while airborne.

The minister said that in order to generate income for the sustainability of the pilots and to meet the maintenance cost of the helicopter, a state owned enterprise, the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited (RBHSL) was also established. The RBHSL will be responsible for the management and operation of the helicopters.

Responding to a question raised by the Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi on the issue of safety of the single-engine helicopter, economic affairs minster, Norbu Wangchuk said that after consulting with several experts and taking into consideration all the parameters including climate and environment of the country, the single-engine helicopter was suggested as the best choice for Bhutan.

In support, the foreign minister, Damcho Dorji said that only through human error could there be an issue of safety with the helicopter. Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that as long as there is no pilot error the helicopter is safe.

The minster added that the helicopter service was launched mainly to cut down on the cost incurred while hiring helicopters during times of emergencies and also to reduce the time spent while reaching medical facilities to the outskirts of the country.

Labour Minister, Ngeema Sangay Tshempo told the House that the journey from Thimphu to Lhuentse took two days covering a total distance of 479km. Lyonpo said that on the helicopter it just took a few hours with a distance of just 150km.

Lyonpo DN Dhungyel in his concluding note to the House said that 47 locations around the country were identified as helipads and feasible locations for helipads in the gewogs were also being identified.

 Younten Tshedup