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State to let out copter to tackle losses

The state government has decided to rent out the helicopter that flies to the districts for Rs 2 lakh an hour plus service tax.

The booking must be for at least an hour and the helicopter will only fly to destinations where services are already operational. Charges for night halt will be extra.

“This is a maiden effort by any state government. One can hire a helicopter for Rs 2 lakh an hour, excluding service tax,” transport minister Madan Mitra said on Tuesday: The service tax will be calculated at 12.5 per cent.

Senior transport department officials said the idea was to make the copter service available to those willing to pay more to cut down on travel time but insiders admitted it was an attempt to cut losses.

The state government has been running a twin-engine Pawan Hans helicopter that can accommodate about eight people to Ganga Sagar, Malda, Balurghat, Durgapur, Santiniketan and Haldia since December last year. While the last service is bi-weekly, the rest are once a week.

The service is part of an agreement with the Union government-owned Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited. The Bengal government is entitled to 40 flying hours every month at the rate of Rs 1.4 lakh an hour, inclusive of service tax. The total expenditure works out to around Rs 56 lakh a month but monthly ticket sales is pegged at around Rs 6 lakh, which means a loss of Rs 50 lakh to the exchequer every month.

Tickets to Ganga Sagar and Santiniketan are heavily subsidised at Rs 1,500 per person. A trip to Malda costs Rs 1,300 and with an additional Rs 500 one can fly up to Balurghat from Malda.

Around four to five hours out of the 40 flying hours booked by the government remain unutilised every month.

“If the chopper is let out on hire during this time, the state stands to gain considerably because the returns from rent would be higher than what the government would be paying to the company,” an official said.

Officials said the state government could earn close to Rs 60,000 per hour. “For two hours of rent, the government would gain Rs 1.2 lakh,” said a finance department official.

Helicopter services from the city have had rough take-offs earlier too. Cart Air had started chartered services from Calcutta in 2011. By the end of 2012, the company shifted its two helicopters to other states.

Prayag Aviation started its service in 2013 from Behala Flying Club but sources said it was leased to clients outside Bengal.

In 2011, Northeast Shuttles, a private airline that had started a service between Calcutta and Cooch Behar, backed out for want of passengers.