Rotor blades start to whir for taxi helicopter business

Newsroom 11/02/2008 | 16:57

“Our business grew by almost 45 percent in 2007 compared to 2006 and we find ourselves in the impossible situation of covering all the demands,” says Dan Ene, CEO at Dasson Corporate. The company owns a fleet of five aircraft and plans to acquire two more helicopters in 2008, with one being a high-end luxury aircraft, said Ene.

Heni Haidar, the 28-year-old owner of Efly Romania, a company offering rental services for private flights, expects business to double only half a year from the company's inception. “We started this business in the middle of 2007, and the turnover registered so far was EUR 20,000, with a gross profit of EUR 3,000. For 2008, I expect a turnover of EUR 50,000 and double the profit,” said Haidar. Unlike for a company that owns a fleet, the profits of a company offering only rental services depends on the prices negotiated with the owners of the aircraft. “For now, as an intermediary company, we offer only air taxi services. In the future, I don't rule out the possibility of taking out a loan to acquire an aircraft,” said Haidar. He added: “We have a partnership with a rent-a car company and we are in negotiations for contracts with several tourism agencies and hotels in Danube Delta, Mamaia resort and Poiana Brasov.”

A niche segment of the flight industry, the air taxi business started to spring up from the country's big cities which have airports and heliports. “We cannot speak of a market yet, but of a certain demand on the segment, since the potential clients have not defined very clearly their demands for air taxi services,” says Mugurel Toma of Regional Air Services, the company which owns the Constanta-based Tuzla airport. Established in 1998, the company is active in the general aviation (business flights, parachute jumping, banner-towing and air taxi) and air maintenance services. Toma says the profitability of air taxi services hinges on the partnership with an air operator as a complementary service segment, rather than a self-standing business, as Regional Air Services is a company delivering such complementary services for Tuzla airport.

Taxi!, says the businessman pointing to a helicopter

The typical client for this business is definitely not the average person on the street. Ene from Dasson said that most of his clients are businesspeople and many of them are active in real estate. “In 2007, the most important clients we served were real estate developers, who use the helicopter to take a look at the land they want to acquire or to supervise construction works at ongoing projects,” said Ene.

Building a customer profile, the typical user of this new taxi service is: a businessperson, investor or representative of the investor, very busy, who likes to take personal control of the investment and wants to see with their own eyes the progress of ongoing works at the investment site. Ene said that it is not only investors from the real estate field who can afford this kind of taxi-helicopter, but also VIPs from media, television and movie production companies from Romania and abroad who come to the country for a day at some two weeks' notice. “They come in the morning, jump into the helicopter, fly to several cities where they run businesses after which they go to the airport to fly back home. After a couple of days, they call us to make a reservation for a helicopter for the next time they are in the country,” said Ene. A private helicopter ride does not just mean private flights for businesspeople. Helicopters are also used for utilitarian services, such as ambulance helicopters. Dasson Corporate, for example, owns a helicopter that is used for medical emergencies and employs medical personnel as well.

Not a habit for shallow pockets

Private helicopter flights don't come cheap. Dasson, for example, uses a fleet of five aircraft with three to eight seats, offered at prices ranging from EUR 990 to 1990 per hour, depending on the type of the aircraft and the number of seats. Besides the obvious, prices include the renting of the aircraft, the crew, the fuel, insurance policies including insurance for the passengers, but not VAT or airport or route taxes if applicable, according to Dasson's offer.

The prices differ from one company to another. For example, a rental company which only intermediates this kind of service without owning a fleet charges lower prices: E-Fly, a newly operating company offering rental services will provide an hour of flying with a three-seater helicopter for EUR 700, while a six-seater helicopter comes at a rental price of EUR 1800, all including VAT. At Tuzla airport, prices go even further south, the offer ranging from EUR 650 plus VAT per hour for a BELL 206 4 helicopter with our seats. The cost of renting a plane is even lower. A DA 20 plane for one passenger costs EUR 120 plus VAT per hour and a flight in a nine-seater plane costs EUR 500 plus VAT per hour at Tuzla's Regional Air Services.

By Magda Purice

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