UK: Executive air travel - wings of desire. (2 of 2)

UK: Executive air travel - wings of desire. (2 of 2) - One drawback with current helicopter operations is the problem of access into central London. Apart from the small and isolated Battersea heliport, and landing rights on top of a few buildings (Rober

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

One drawback with current helicopter operations is the problem of access into central London. Apart from the small and isolated Battersea heliport, and landing rights on top of a few buildings (Robert Maxwell's landing pad on top of the Mirror building in Holborn is perhaps the best known), the rest of London, particularly the City, is virtually inaccessible to a helicopter. There was once a helipad on the river in the City, but that has since shut, and fears over noise pollution have hindered any replacement, though there are plans to build another on top of a new development overlooking Cannon Street railway station, in the heart of the City.

Noise problems are the greatest threat to the industry, as Hampton explains: "We are very fortunate in this country in being able to land where we like (outside London and big cities) provided it is safe, without having to seek special permission from authorities. In Europe, by contrast, every landing is tightly regulated, which is not something we want to happen here."

As a result, CSE trains its helicopter pilots to "fly neighbourly", by coming in fast, landing quickly and switching off, or alternatively taking off again fast in order to cut down on the noise which comes largely from the tail rotor. It is a tactic which pays dividends. "The anti-helicopter lobby is well organised in this country," he warns all operators. But this does not deter would-be owners or users.

Some companies become so hooked on executive jets and helicopters that they actually buy their own. It can be a pricey exercise. Pasquill reckons that a company needs to be able to fly at least 300 and maybe 500 hours a year to justify purchase. The top of the range British Aerospace 125s or the American LearJet (with the sleek lines of a fighter aircraft) cost several million pounds apiece. A secondhand JetRanger helicopter up to five years old can cost £350,000. But unlike the secondhand car market, planes and helicopters do hold their prices well. A strict lifetime guarantee on spare parts and careful maintenance - demanded by Civil Aviation Authority safety regulations - ensure that even a 10-year-old model can be in fine fettle.

Air Hanson, for example, runs a KingAir 200, and is buying a Beechjet, for use by Hanson's senior executives. When not in company service it will be available for charter. The group also runs a helicopter business, with some seven Sikorsky S76 machines maintained for private owners, which may also be chartered. "We are trying to get away from the frivolous image of the executive jet. For many multinationals the helicopter is absolutely essential. It enables them to dispense with senior staff in outlying areas. Head office can monitor performance and visit plants easily in a day with a helicopter," says Bob Baff, Air Hanson's helicopter sales manager.

JCB, the Staffordshire-based excavator group, frequently dispatches its 125 jet round Europe to collect customers and jet them back to the UK to receive a hard sales pitch about its latest machine. Decked out in the company's corporate colours, the jet clocks up some 700 hours a year, making it the most heavily used in Britain. JCB has little spare capacity to put the jet out to charter.

Yet despite the benefits of the executive jet to a company, the market in the UK and Europe is still small beer compared with in the United States, where executive jet numbers are close to 7,000. In Europe as a whole, Pasquill estimates the total to be but 10% of this figure. The arrival of the long-awaited single market in 1992 should give a fillip to executive jet usage in Europe, as more businesses cross international frontiers with their manufacturing operations.

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