Answer to traffic chaos is taking off

| Elizabeth Law and Harry Pearl 16 May 2018

Within minutes of using an app to book a ride, Agostino Fernandes was looking down on lush greenery from a helicopter taxi high above Bangalore - one of several Uber-style services taking off to help commuters tackle congested megacities.

In under 30 minutes - a quarter of the time it would have taken from downtown Bangalore by road - he was strolling through Kempegowda International Airport to his gate.

"It's much better because it saves time," he said.

"And for a city like Bangalore, which they call India's green capital because of the parks and gardens, you get a very nice view."

From New York to Jakarta, chopper-hailing services have been taking off to help commuters beat traffic jams.

Private helicopter charters have been available for decades - at a price - but the latest services are far cheaper and more accessible, allowing anyone with a smartphone and a credit card to order a ride with relative ease.

Sameer Rehman, Asia-Pacific managing director of Bell Helicopter, said chopper manufacturers were predicting more services in traffic-clogged parts of Southeast Asia in particular, describing it as an important testbed.

"That can be replicated throughout other cities and countries in the Asia-Pacific," he said.

A similar service was recently launched in the Indonesian capital

Jakarta, a chaotic metropolis of more than 10 million people, which suffers some of the world's worst jams.

Operated by Whitesky Aviation, Helicity now has 60 customers each month, mostly from the business world.

Its services include a 20-minute ride from Jakarta airport into the heart of the city for six million rupiah (HK$3,354) for up to four people, as well as a 45-minute flight from Jakarta to Bandung, 150 kilometers away, from 14 million rupiah.

The prices are still out of reach for most people in Jakarta, where the monthly minimum wage is about US$250 (HK$1,950).

In Bangalore, HeliTaxii launched in March, offering a ride from the airport to IT industrial park Electronic City for about US$65 each - the same journey that Fernandes took on launch day.

In Brazil's Sao Paulo, the app Voom offers a 30km helicopter ride to the airport for about US$150 - 10 times cheaper than private charters in the past - while in New York, a chopper-hailing service ferries people between downtown and surrounding airports.

Despite the growth of such apps, industry players warn of major hurdles still.

One is finding suitable take-off and landing sites, particularly in Asian cities.

Helipads have been springing up rapidly in recent years but a large number are private and observers warn many have not been certified as safe by aviation authorities.

While the popularity of such services is growing, analysts say there are unlikely to be many helicopter taxis taking to the skies soon as prices - although lower now - will remain a barrier.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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