Since the launch of helicopter service in November 2015, the two A5 choppers have touched more than 300 destinations across the country.

From Jomotshangkha in Samdrupjongkhar to Sibsoo in Samtse and to the extreme north in Lhedi and Thangza in Lunana, the two A5 choppers made 1,178 flights as of June this year.

In keeping with its mandate, the choppers conducted 442 emergency medical evacuations to date, of which 95 operations were conducted between January and June this year.

Until June this year, the choppers were deployed on 28 firefighting missions and four airlifting of relief materials during floods. It had also performed 66 aerial works for agencies.

Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service Limited (RBHSL), Chewang Gyeltshen said the company was established with a primary mandate to cater to emergency situations in the country.

However, he said for the sustainability of the company, it operates charter flights that provide additional service to tourists and locals.

Among the locals, Lunana remains the top destination with the highlanders using choppers more than any locals.

According to RBHSL records, as of December 25, it operated 239 flights to Lunana. The highlanders hire the chopper service to transport goods and people from the mountains to Punakha at 50 percent subsidised fare in addition to 34 percent deduction offered by the RBHSL.

Lunana Tshogpa Pema said that chopper service was a most beneficial developmental activity for the highlanders, reducing a week-long arduous journey across the mountains to about half an hour.

According to the annual InfoCom and transport statistics with the information and communications ministry, the helicopters made 463 flights in 2016, 418 in 2017 and 297 as of June this year.

Majority of flights were local charters, followed by emergency medical evacuation and tourist charter.

Since the chopper service was introduced and until June this year, 301 flights were chartered for tourist. An hour of flight costs USD 4,375, which was reduced from the initial fare of USD 5,250.

RBHSL CEO said that tourist charter flights went up by 16 percent and that the company has introduced new services by flying to some of the iconic destinations in the country.

RBHSL, he said is currently testing the market. However, since people have limited disposable income, he said, hiring the chopper is quite expensive. “But improving the service is our priority at the moment,” he added.

Bringing in an additional fleet of chopper(s), he said is a long-term plan. In terms of revenue, he said 2019 would be a decisive year for RBHSL.

“What we lose from the emergency services, we try to make it up with commercial flights,” he said.

As per its budget report, the RBHSL suffered a loss of nearly Nu 1M in 2015. This is because the company took off during the end of the year. However, in 2016, the company declared a net profit of Nu 31M and in the following year the net profit increased by Nu 10M.

Tshering Dorji