Even though they typically only fly a few hundred or a few thousand feet above the surface of the earth, helicopters have a way of making passengers feel like they are on top of the world. They are definitely well above the traffic congestion of popular sporting events and crowded thoroughfares. And there’s no place those two frustrations will collide more visibly this summer than the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazilian cities, especially Rio and São Paulo, are well known for helicopter operations bypassing gridlocked streets. These cities have some of the worst driving conditions in the world on regular days. Although operations have fluctuated with recent economic and political unrest in Brazil, São Paulo typically sees about 700 helicopter flights per working day, with nearly 500 helicopters registered in the vicinity.
In June, Uber announced a pilot of UberCopter in São Paulo with introductory fares as low as $63. One week later, fares increased 150 percent. The president of the Brazilian Association of Pilots of Helicopters has predicted that the fees charged by UberCopter are not sustainable, and Inez Sampaio, an aviation attorney practicing in Brazil, reports that the helicopter service is no longer showing on her Uber app. Furthermore the free market system that makes Uber such a popular transportation operation on the ground is severely limited by airspace restrictions and commercial air operations by each country’s federal aviation authority. In São Paulo, only three companies are able to provide service — Air Jet, Helimarte and UniAir.
While a fleet of 90 helicopters will be used for air space control, safety, rescue missions and “image control,” we should not expect to see a tremendous number of VIPs or athletes arriving for competition via helicopter. Rio airspace will be strictly managed for the duration of the Olympics, with only preauthorized aircraft allowed within 15 nautical miles of the Olympic park. Inside the red and yellow fly zones, general aviation aircraft will only be allowed for transport of Chiefs of State and VIPs previously vetted. Outside of the restricted areas, Global Aviation is providing helicopter charter services.
On the fixed-wing side, operators and airport officials in the Rio area are expecting as many as 800 private aircraft, coming from all over the world. Because the centrally located private airport in the Rio area is inside the yellow fly zone, aircraft and passengers must undergo a security inspection at a designated hub airport before proceeding to the Santos Dumont Airport (SDU). CFLY Aviation and Global Aviation will coordinate parking of the unusually large number of visiting aircraft according to CFLY Aviation Partner Francisco Lyra. Strict security measures should limit the number of unscheduled operations, which in turn will reduce the backlogs of aircraft coming and going during a particularly busy time.
But no matter the security measures and delays, flying private still beats flying commercial — and the bird’s eye view from those lucky enough to be in a helicopter will be spectacular.
René Banglesdorf is CEO of Charlie Bravo Aviation and International Aviation Women’s Association Industry VP for General Aviation and Helicopters.