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Just a curious thought. Why isn't there any helicopter airline? Airlines that operate large helicopters that can transport 10 or 20 people a short distance?

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    $\begingroup$ If it didn't look like I was just trying to be flippant, I would answer "because we have cars". Define what you mean by short distances. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen Oct 17 '16 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by 'airline'? There are obviously many helicopter charters. $\endgroup$ – user6035379 Oct 17 '16 at 6:00
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    $\begingroup$ You are invited to investigate the Off Shore industry's use of helicopters to take people to and from oil platforms. CHC, Bristow, PHI are but three such companies. Those are indeed "helicopter airlines." $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 17 '16 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ We do. Air Greenland is a good example. $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Oct 17 '16 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ There is Uber chopper in Dubai and various other cities $\endgroup$ – wim Oct 17 '16 at 15:22
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They do in fact exist, though they often use smaller helicopters. A Google search on the term "heli taxi" yields thousands of results, and while a lot are probably irrelevant, the first few pages give hundreds of operators around the world, ranging from companies ferrying passengers between airports and major cities to companies servicing oil platforms at sea, islands too small to have airfields, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that an airline is a company, companies usually try to be profitable, and helicopters just aren't cheap. Pretty much any other mode of transport is cheaper. You therefore tend to see helicopter services where there are no decent alternatives $\endgroup$ – MSalters Oct 17 '16 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to the cost, I believe the accident rate is higher. Oil rig personnel are required to do the (arduous and unpleasant) training for evacuating from a helicopter that's ditched at sea. $\endgroup$ – pjc50 Oct 17 '16 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @pjc50 As somebody who has taken helicopters out to oil rigs myself, I can tell you that it is not a requirement. It is usually enforced by the helicopter operator, but not always. The biggest certification programs are SafeGulf and HUET. I've taken a helicopter without either training (although I didn't enjoy it, it was an emergency and didn't have time for training). $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Oct 17 '16 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer our guys speak of the training experience in hushed tones. I'm still trying to get myself on it to see what the fuss is about :D $\endgroup$ – Gusdor Oct 18 '16 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MSalters: the last time I took a helicopter in Nice (from the airport to a hotel in Monaco), the fare was equivalent to a taxi on the same route. It was way faster, though. $\endgroup$ – WoJ Oct 19 '16 at 13:20
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Air Greenland is a good example of a company that uses helicopters in scheduled air traffic. Unlike many of the other examples mentioned here, a large part of Air Greenland's helicopter operations take place as scheduled traffic, and not charter flights. They operate the following:

2x Sikorsky S-61N with 19 seats
9x Eurocopter AS 350 with 5 seats
8x Bell 212 with 8 seats

to and from multiple small cities and towns on the coast of Greenland.

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    $\begingroup$ The Air Greenland helicopter serivces mesh with their Dash-8s and A330 routes, so this is a great example of an airline using helicopters as part of a full scheduled service, not just a niche. $\endgroup$ – Dan Sheppard Oct 18 '16 at 13:56
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The other answers demonstrate that there are several helicopter airlines, but I don't think that really answers the question.

Why aren't there more? Simple economics. Compared to other kinds of powered aircraft, helicopters are small, slow and expensive to run. They do have the advantage that a helipad takes up much less space than a runway which means you could fly your helicopters right into the middle of the city, rather than to large airports in the suburbs or beyond. However, helicopters are also very noisy, so that would be very unpopular with everybody else who used that part of the city. This means that your heliport actually has to be out in the suburbs anyway, and you've just lost your only advantage.

All of this makes it very difficult to be a profitable helicopter airline. All of the examples in the other answers are cases where special circumstances mean that helicopters can still work. Taking people to oilrigs by air is much faster than by ship, but you can't land a fixed-wing plane on an oil rig. Small, widely spaced communities might not be accessible by road and might not have the resources to maintain an airport, but might be willing to pay enough to support a helicopter service when it's their only option. If you just want to transport "10–20 people a short distance", a bus is going to be almost as fast, much more comfortable and orders of magnitude cheaper in almost all non-special circumstances.

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer. In the case of the Alaska helicopter service I mentioned in my own answer, it is subsidized by the government as part of a program to keep remote communities connected to the rest of the country. If Erickson had to rely only on passenger fares to run the service, it would probably not be economically viable. It is very similar to the current situation of Amtrak rail in the USA, which the government keeps running at a loss because it considers it to be an essential service that shouldn't close due to market pressure. $\endgroup$ – Robert Columbia Oct 18 '16 at 12:45
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We do: Helijet International.

Helijet International is a helicopter airline and charter service based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

They operate regularly scheduled flights between:

  • Vancouver Harbour Heliport and Victoria Harbour Heliport
  • Vancouver Harbour Heliport and Nanaimo Harbour Heliport (Monday-Friday)
  • Vancouver International Airport and Victoria Harbour Heliport (Monday-Friday, limited flights)

I'm sure there must be other services where the geography and economy can support it.

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    $\begingroup$ According to their website, Helijet offers a 35-minute flight from Nanaimo Harbour (wherever that is) to Vancouver Airport for a very reasonable $109. I would do it once just for the experience. $\endgroup$ – Malvolio Oct 17 '16 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ That's almost cheaper than BC Ferries! $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai Oct 18 '16 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ This service is feasible because Vancouver airport is 10 km from downtown Vancouver, and Victoria airport is 25 km from downtown Victoria. Add to that the time savings of expedited security clearance, and it is much faster than any of the alternatives. $\endgroup$ – user19474 Oct 18 '16 at 15:41
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There are helicopter airlines.

Definition: airline is a company that transports people by air and in so doing makes a profit (or tries to).

PHI, Bristow, and CHC are three of numerous companies who transport people to and from oil platforms as passengers, for a profit. (At least, that's their aim).

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  • $\begingroup$ I am reluctant to accept this definition of airline as it would encompass all unscheduled, on-demand part 135 service, including medevac air ambulance service. While the part 119 certificate holder of an air-ambulance may be considered an airline for some purposes, I should think their part 135 operation would not be. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Oct 17 '16 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ Such companies, such as the one for whom I work, do not publish a schedule of flights, and operate on demand. As a pilot I do not have a flight schedule, only a duty schedule. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Oct 17 '16 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters Possible response: "demand pull" is a more efficient way to run a business where the margins are what they are in the helicopter off shore transport business. You serve your customer base when they need to move people, and you schedule/adapt to meet what the customer needs, rather than move a plane and tell this customer base "hope your people are ready to move." The difference passenger in volume (rotary wing versus off shore) is orders of magnitude so economies of scale don't work the same. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 17 '16 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose I should have left the comment at the question, not an answer. I've done so now. $\endgroup$ – oals Oct 17 '16 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ I think the more commonly acceptable definition of an airline is: "an organization providing a regular public service of air transport on one or more routes.". I don't think any over the organizations you mentioned meets the "regular public service" part. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Oct 18 '16 at 15:16
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Erickson Aviation operates a regular helicopter service from Nome, Alaska to Little Diomede Island, Alaska. Little Diomede sometimes makes it onto lists of the most remote towns in the USA and is more or less a small rock in the middle of the Bering Strait with a fishing village on it.

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New York Airways used to operate a helicopter taxi service until they closed in 1979. They operated a number of helicopters, including the tandem rotor BV107-II. If you ever watch the Clint Eastwood film Coogan's Bluff (1968), you'll see at least two of them operating off the Pan-Am building. New York Airways

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    $\begingroup$ I think explaining why they closed would make this much more appropriate to the question. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Oct 18 '16 at 8:45
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The helicopter option is popular with Hong Kong's high rollers, looking to hit the tables in Macau.

http://www.skyshuttlehk.com/

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In the UK, British International Helicopters (formerly British Airways Helicopters) is a helicopter airline, although they do not currently fly any regular public routes.

BIH fly for offshore (e.g. North Sea oil) and defence industries. They also offer training and sightseeing tours from London (Redhill) and Coventry.

BIH operated a regular Sikorsky S-61 service from Penzance Heliport to St Mary's Airport and Tresco Heliport on the Isles of Scilly from 1964 until 2012, when Penzance Heliport was sold to the supermarket Tesco. There are plans to reinstate the service if a suitable new site can be found.

BIH jointly operated the Airlink shuttle service between Gatwick and Heathrow between 1978 and 1986. The service ended because its licence was revoked after the M25 motorway had been completed.

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