US Helicopter no longer uses American gate at JFK airport

Travelers taking US Helicopter's eight-minute trip between Manhattan and John F. Kennedy International Airport will, as of Monday, land at a Delta gate.

"New York is a big focus for Delta," and the company has recently added a number of routes, said spokeswoman Betsy Talton. "Winning in New York requires us meeting business travelers' needs" and saving time is part of this effort.

In March 2006, Stratford-based US Helicopter started regular service between the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and the airport, using a gate in an American Airlines terminal. Passengers go through Transportation Safety Administration-manned security at the heliport on Manhattan's Lower East Side, bypassing the car ride to the airport and the security lines.

In December, the company announced an agreement with Continental Airlines for an eight-minute service between the heliport and one of that airline's gates at Newark Liberty International Airport. And in January, US Helicopter expanded its service to the East 34th Street heliport, offering trips to both airports. The company is also selling seats on its Sikorsky S-76C++ aircraft for the twice-daily trips between Stratford and Manhattan.

The move from one JFK terminal to another -- announced Thursday -- came because American needed the gate for its wide-body jets, said Donal F. McSullivan, US Helicopter's senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "They approached us," he said of Delta.

Neither US Helicopter nor Delta would disclose the financial terms of the deal.

In a statement, American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith wrote, "We were not seeing that much business coming to our terminal through the service, which was using one of our valuable gates at JFK."

"We're a little behind the game financially," McSullivan said of the company's results thus far. Some of this, he said, is because it took longer than anticipated to get TSA approval for a security gate at the second heliport. Also, American's schedule of flights later in the day led to loads lighter than planned for in the mornings. Delta's flights, he added, are spread more evenly throughout the day.

Passengers from other airlines can use US Helicopter, but they would have to arrive and leave from Delta's terminal. Delta passengers can buy US Helicopter tickets through Delta -- but not the other way around -- and, by the end of the month, through Delta's online reservation system.

US Helicopter hopes to add service to and from a third heliport at West 30th Street later this year, McSullivan said.

In addition to TSA approval, service from the Hudson River side of Manhattan is waiting on at least four Sikorsky helicopters the company has on order. Those won't come off the production line until 2008, McSullivan said.

"We're getting there. We're well on track," and he expects the company to be in the black in six to nine months.

And while US Helicopter isn't planning on adding service to other New York-area airports -- except LaGuardia, which McSullivan described as "clearly in our sights" -- it is planning on bringing its business model to other cities. When asked to describe their typical passenger, McSullivan said he ["and it shouldn't be that way"] is between 30 and 45 years old and, predominantly, working in the financial industry. McSullivan described these people as the "& early adopters of trends and patterns," for whom saving time is worth the approximately $159 one-way fare. "They're arriving at the heliport literally with no time to spare."

Also Thursday, the company announced a multiyear agreement with Sabre Travel Network that means it will be easier for travel agents to book their passengers on US Helicopter. Pam Dawkins, YourMoney editor, can be reached at 330-6351.

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