Survey jolt to hill helipad and chopper plans

The Telegraph

Kalimpong, Dec. 27: A preliminary survey by the civil aviation ministry has concluded that Deolo is not a suitable site for the construction of a helipad in Kalimpong while giving nod to other identified sites at Dhotray near Darjeeling and Mirik.

The survey also found that introduction of regular helicopter services in the three hill towns would not be commercially viable.

The government-owned Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited had carried out the survey jointly with the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) in March to find out if the chopper rides could be launched from Bagdogra to Mirik, Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Apart from Deolo, which is 5km from here, the other sites surveyed were the existing helipads in Mirik and Dhotray tea garden, 18km from Darjeeling.

Pritha Sarkar, the WBTDC joint director, said helipads could be developed at Dhotray and in Mirik. “However, the site at Deolo is not suitable for the construction of a helipad. There is no suitable site in Kalimpong that can be used for the (helicopter) operation,” said Sarkar on phone from Calcutta, quoting the report. She said the report had not mentioned any reason for rejecting the spot.

The site in Mirik is often used by helicopters to land and take off and the survey said it could be converted into a full-fledged helipad.

“They (read the Pawan Hans) said in their report that people would prefer to travel by road to these places rather than by air to enjoy the scenic beauty of the hills. So, the service may not be commercially viable,” said Sarkar.

She, however, stressed that all matters relating to the setting up of helipads in the hills and the Sunderbans were in a preliminary stage.

Pawan Hans was incorporated with the objective of providing helicopter services to oil companies for off-shore explorations and charter rides for the promotion of tourism. The company also offers air rides to the remote and hilly areas.

Sarkar said Pawan Hans had suggested that instead of regular trips, charter services could be an option in the hills.

The introduction of helicopter services in the hills had figured in Parliament earlier this month. CPM Rajya Sabha member Saman Pathak had asked the government if helicopter services between Bagdogra and the three hill towns could be launched to facilitate the arrival of tourists.

Civil aviation minister Praful Patel, in his written reply, said a survey had been undertaken by the Pawan Hans in collaboration with the WBTDC to check the viability of the helicopter services in the hills.

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