Shimla heli-taxi service gets costlier

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Shimla, July 8 (IANS) Barely a month after its launch, the heli-taxi fare between Shimla and Chandigarh has gone up by Rs 500, from Rs 2,999 to Rs 3,499, officials said on Sunday.

This is not all. There is a confusion over its landing site in the Himachal state capital.

Officials said the chopper is still landing at the airport at Jubbarhatti, 22 km from here, and not at the Annandale ground, the picturesque flat highland just 3 km from Shimla’s Ridge, as announced by the government soon after the launch of its maiden flight on June 4.

“Seeing the poor response of the travellers, the government has announced that the chopper will land at the Annandale ground and not at the airport. That was an encouraging step to woo the tourists as it helps reducing the travel distance between the landing spot and the city,” a travel agent told IANS.

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“But the chopper is still landing at the Jubbarhatti airport and it’s discouraging the tourists and even locals to travel by air. That is why almost 50 per cent of the seats in every flight have been remaining unsold since the launch of heli-taxi service,” he said, adding “most of the tourists are preferring to travel by cab than heli-taxi”.

Officials told IANS that for boarding the chopper at Shimla, one has to go to the Jubbarhatti airport, which is an hour-long travel from here.

It lands and takes off from the Chandigarh International Airport, some 18 km from the city.

Seeing the poor response of the travelers, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, announced on June 18 the chopper would land at the Annandale ground but would take off from Jubbarhatti.

“We are still awaiting permission from the defence ministry. Owing to security reasons, it’s reluctant to allow the civilian chopper to land at the Annandale ground,” a senior official with the state Tourism and Civil Aviation Department told IANS.

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A prime land surrounded by thick forests, the Annandale ground has been under the Army’s control since World War II. The Army has allowed only the landing of the Chief Minister’s chopper there.

The official admitted that the one-way airfare for the tri-weekly service was increased by Rs 500 from July 1 owing to high operational cost.

With the launch of the heli-taxi service on June 4, the travel time between Shimla and Chandigarh was reduced to just 20 minutes against four hours by road.

The Chief Minister has offered his official helicopter for the Shimla-Chandigarh route.

The state government in association with helicopter service operator Pawan Hans Ltd launched this service.

The helicopter takes off at the Jubbarhatti airport at 8 a.m. and reaches Chandigarh at 8.20 a.m. And from Chandigarh it takes off at 9 a.m. and reaches Shimla at 9.20 a.m.

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The state is constructing a helipad at Sanjauli, just on the outskirts of Shimla. The Shimla-Chandigarh flight will be operated from Sanjauli after the new helipad becomes operational in four-five months, say officials.

The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp has started a shuttle bus service between Shimla and the airport for the heli-taxi passengers. The ticket is Rs 200 per seat.

The normal taxi fare between Shimla and its airport is between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500, which travel agents say is too high for a person who is travelling at an affordable air fare.

Known for its apples and picture-perfect tourist spots, Himachal Pradesh attracted 19.6 million tourists last year, 2.9 times of its population. It has 63 operational helipads across the state, as per the state’s Economic Survey 2017-18.

–IANS

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