The first H 130 helicopter which is being designed and manufactured by Airbus helicopters will arrive in the country on November 3, 2015.
The other helicopter is expected to arrive in May or June next year.
RBHSL (Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service Limited) will be going about with a lean-start up philosophy, where most of the employees will have to take multi tasking roles and work accordingly.
“This is primarily done because the initial operation cost will be very high because of the high fixed cost and the salary that we have to pay to the expatriate pilots and the engineers,” said Chhewang Gyeltshen, newly appointed CEO of RBHSL. He also added that although it
is a government owned company, RBHSL will have to be mindful from the initial stages when it comes to financial usage. RBSHL primarily will consist of flight operators, engineers, ground operators, and quality assurance team among others.
Since RBSHL is regulated by Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA), it is mandated to establish the management structure as per the rules enforced by BCAA.
The expected helicopters H 130 (EC 130 T2) are designed and manufactured by Airbus Helicopters. The manufacturing plant is based in France from where, later it is being shipped to Singapore to assemble the parts and then ferried to Bhutan.
There have been conjectures as to why the two helicopters are not being delivered together, to which the CEO clarified that there are two factors to be considered in the case. Firstly the authorities would have to confirm the slots with the manufacturers and then the lead time for each helicopter.
Lead time is the period of time between the decision to manufacture a product and the beginning of actual production of the product. For manufacturing any helicopter it takes at least 6-12 months keeping in consideration all the required customization of the helicopter standards, selection of optional equipment according to geographical needs, and others like paint scheme definition and finalizing of logo.
Another factor according to Chhewang Gyeltshen is the financial investment, technology and skills diffusion. “Currently we do not have the individuals with required skills to operate and manage helicopter operations in our own market,” he said. RBHSL has already started its journey to train Bhutanese man power and plans to recruit them in the years to come. As a start each helicopter will come with one pilot and engineer each to help with the transition.
“Right now all our resources are geared toward meeting the technical requirements and fulfilling the operational requirements prescribed by BCAA,” said Chhewang Gyeltshen. Strategic plans are underway which will be ready for implementation by the end of next month. The strategic plans would look into the certain amount of time a minister can use the helicopters and charge for it accordingly. As discussed earlier, the strategic plans will also take into account the viability of venturing into business for tourism purposes.
The expected helicopters have the smart characteristics of two cable cutters on each of it. The cable cutters will function as a slicer through electric cables to prevent mishaps. The helicopter is also equipped with radio altimeter, cargo sling mirrors, V2 track system to further enhance the overall safety of the helicopters. The fore mentioned are all optional features that RBHSL has especially chosen for operational safety of the helicopter. “Safety is our first priority and we are working towards maintaining a good safety standard not only for the equipment but also for various areas of helicopter operations,” said the CEO of RBHSL. The government’s equity or contribution in the helicopter services is Nu. 600 million out of which 459.9 million has already being used for the purchase of the two helicopters. The rest of the budget will be utilized as part of operational expenses for the helicopter operations.
If there is a need and if the current helicopter services are being availed adequately, RBHSL might add more helicopters in the future. Chhewang Gyeltshen said that since it is an untested market, they do not know how the market is going to react for such services. He added, “However, we have some indications and gut feeling that such services will be successful.”
The identification and designation of helipads are still underway apart from the existing 40 helipads identified in 18 dzongkhags.
According to a source the government originally offered Druk Air the opportunity to take and start the helicopter services but Druk Air did not want it.
One option was to put it under a government department but it was felt that then the use of helicopters would not be done efficently and there would a lot of red tape.