Is helicopter the commuter transport of the future?

What cuts through traffic jams, avoids rush hour, doesn’t need a runway, and delivers you right to your door? The humble helicopter of course, beloved transportation method of oligarchs and billionaires is perpetually useful in a busy city.

In New York, 'copters skip their way up the Hudson, and in London, the helicopter is no longer an unusual sight over the city. But for those of us who cram onto the tube or take the bus on a daily basis, what we want to know is could the helicopter ever become an actual commuting vessel?

Are they cost effective?

Robinson Helicopter Company are one of the world’s largest manufacturers of civil helicopters. The R44 Raven II is one of their most popular models and costs $463,800 (approx. £295,805) new. According to Transport for London, their “New Bus” for London, a more eco-friendly model, costs £326,000 over a 14 year lifespan.

The bus obviously is probably the most cost-effective form of transportation. But then take into account how many missed meetings have been caused by being “stuck on the bus”, and how quickly a helicopter can get from A-B.

Are the number of helicopters increasing?

Let’s take the latest available statistics released by the UK’s civil aviation authority to see how popular helicopter travel is in London. On March 31st, 2015, 67 flights were taken by helicopters, and only eight of those were police helicopters. The number of helicopters in London fluctuates wildly. 

For example, after the fatal helicopter crash in Vauxhall on the January 16th, 2013, there was a marked drop in London helicopter usage. Despite it being the first helicopter crash since records began in 1976, the event encouraged Kate Hoey MP and Boris Johnson to suggest that greater helicopter regulation was needed in London.

But this doesn’t mean that the dream of helicopter commutes won’t become a reality. 16,376 flights passed over London last year, and there is space for the market to grow.

Do people commute by helicopter?

Atlas Helicopters is one company that advertises their services as “London’s helicopter charter” with a tagline: “Travel stress-free, avoid traffic jams and increase your productivity with an itinerary to suit your business needs.” 

On their website Atlas suggests that the helicopter charter market is on the increase - the main sell is that commuting by helicopter is efficient and effective. Alana Burns, the general manager of Atlas Helicopters said: “Helicopter travel to and from London could be more extensively used if the landing fees in London were not so prohibitive.  For instance, the standard landing fee for an Agusta 109 helicopter at Battersea Heliport is £725 plus VAT, with extension fees of up to £700 plus VAT for out of hours movements and a cost of £350 plus VAT per hour parking (only 15 minutes parking is permitted within the standard landing fee).”

Is it really feasible?

Assuming the landing fees were reduced slightly, how would using helicopters as a commuting vessel work? With four international airports, London’s skies are already exceptionally busy. Aircraft are being kept in holding for longer than ever while air traffic control work on landing planes to ensure airports work at maximum capacity. 

But the beauty of helicopters is their ability to land on relatively small helipads that can be located on small (compared to a runway) rooftops. Although private pilot permits are relatively difficult to secure (the ex-Chairman of Debeers Nicky Oppenheimer is the only person currently allowed to land a helicopter in the Square Mile), there is plenty of potential for charters to land.

Helicopters offer less noise pollution, they’re easier to land than planes, and there’s a growing trade in green machines, can we expect helicopters to become a regular feature of our commute? With the current cost of a helicopter flight averaging around £650 for a short hop, the future of the helicopter commute could be a long way into the future!

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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