KOCHI: Come November 15, a Kochi-based private tour operator will commence a daily helicopter service to Sabarimala, in a bid to attract high-end pilgrims and tourists to the temple situated amidst hills.
The to-and-fro service from Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) to Sabarimala is priced at `34,900/person and can accommodate five persons per flight, said Santhosh Thayil, director of Santos King Tours & Travels, which is launching the service. The frequency of the service will be increased depending on the demand. The flight will be up to Perunad, the nearest location which has a helipad facility. From there the devotees are provided an air-conditioned car facility till Pampa, a distance of 40 km. The tourists/pilgrims would return via the helicopter next day at 6 pm from Perunad, an hour’s ride to CIAL. Thayil said Santos King Tours & Travels has tied up with Chipsan Aviation, a Delhi-based aviation service provider, which launched its operations in Kerala in 2012. “We plan to operate the service on a revenue sharing basis,” Thayil said. This is not the first time that a helicopter service is launched to the hill shrine of Sabarimala. Some years back another tour operator tried the service, but lack of demand from tourists/pilgrims forced the company to halt the operations.
“That service was aimed at pilgrims from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This service is from Kochi and the initial response suggest we will have enough customers,” Thayil said. He said since his company is a tour and travel operator, the heli-service will continue even after the pilgrimage season at Sabarimala for the tourists.
The single-engine helicopter is hired at `85,000 per hour expense. If the demand for the service increases, Santos King Tours would look at utilising a twin-engine helicopter, which has a seating capacity of 18 people. Even now some companies are operating helicopter facility from Coimbatore and Bangaluru, priced at `60,000 and `90,000 per person.