“We are hopeful that the service would be popular among high-end tourists, especially foreigners,” said state tourism secretary Vikram Sen.
The plan is a brainchild of tourism minister Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury who got the green light from chief minister Mamata Banerjee at a meeting of tourism stakeholders at the Writers’ Buildings in November 2012.
“A helicopter service is a must for destinations which face perennial problems of landslides. There is a helicopter service from Bagdogra to Gangtok and I asked the chief minister why there should not be one connecting Darjeeling. The chief said it was a wonderful idea,” said Choudhury. The chopper service would take of from Bagdogra and would land at the helipad at Lebong racecourse, around 9 km from Darjeeling town. It takes another 15 minutes by road Darjeeling.
Presently, it takes around three to three and a half-hour to reach Darjeeling from Bagdogra by road. The town train takes around 10 hours from Siliguri though services have stopped.
“Bagdogra to Lebong would take around 35 minutes. If we get enough passengers we might operate helicopters for every two or three flights,” added Choudhury.
Darjeeling receives around 4 lakh domestic tourists and around 25,000 foreign tourists. Everyday, two sorties are made between Bagdogra and Gangtok. A five-seater chopper flies the route, taking around 35 minutes to reach the destination,” said a Pawan Hans official in Gangtok. The fare is Rs. 2,200 per person.