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Chartered Choppers the In Way for Top Executives To Go

October 11, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Aerospatiale AStar, outfitted with a plush, gray-blue interior, bobs as it slowly rises from the heliport alongside the Hudson River, banks to the right as it gains speed and aims for 1,000 feet.

The Statue of Liberty is visible ahead, and the aircraft soon whirs past the twin towers of the World Trade Center, leaving the car-cluttered streets of Manhattan behind.

Helicopters take off and land 400 times a day in Manhattan, most of them carrying high-powered executives to a myriad of destinations.

James Robinson, chairman of American Express Co., gets around in a helicopter. So do financier Saul Steinberg of Reliance Group Holdings Inc., and Jonathan Tisch, president of Loews Hotels.

Robert Brennan, the former chairman of First Jersey Securities Inc., appeared in advertisments for the investment firm featuring a helicopter.

Because companies are more likely to charter rather than own their own helicopters these days, one small company called Damin Aviation is cashing in.

″Our business is up considerably,″ says Anthony Amanzio, vice president of sales for Damin, which bills itself as the largest provider of executive class helicopter service on the East Coast.

″We saw a niche in the marketplace itself for corporate service. We saw that nobody had a fleet that was dedicated to corporate travel,″ Amanzio said.

In its luxury helicopters with cabins that are outfitted like stretch limousines, Damin flies executives around New York City, to the area airports, to the Hamptons beaches at the eastern tip of Long Island, and along the Boston-New York-Washington, D.C., corridor.

Executives use helicopters heavily in the Northeast, largely because of the concentration of corporate headquarters in the area. Helicopters are also especially popular among executives in Texas and California.

This expensive means of transportation - Damin’s fees range from $475 to $1,950 an hour - offers executives escape from traffic jams, on the highways and in the commercial airways. It allows them to do a two- to three-day trip in one day.

″What we well more than anything else is time. What we offer is the ability fr the chief executive officers to put hundreds of hours back into their schedules,″ Amanzio said.

For example, a flight to one of New York’s major airports takes a scant 11 minutes. A trip to the nation’s capital takes an hour and a half but circumvents airport delays.

″The helicopter is definitely not a perk. It’s a management tool,″ Amanzio said. ″There are people who point to the helicopter and say there goes a fat cat. That is not true. They would not be able to operate efficiently without it.″

A combination of factors has discouraged companies from operating their own helicopters.

There were 134 business and private helicopters in operation in 1960, compared with a peak of 1,728 in 1982 and 1,552 in 1985, according to the Helicopter Association International in Alexandria, Va.

″One of the biggest reasons is economical and that the recession was felt in some industries more than others,″ said Frank Jensen, president of the association. He cited the slump in oil drilling in particular.

During hard times, companies decide to charter a helicopter when it is needed rather than maintain one or an entire flight department, Jensen said.

And as helicopters have been upgraded to carry more passengers in recent years, companies have decided to share, he said.

In addition, the tax advantages of owning a helicopter are less favorable, insurance costs are higher and companies fear liability, he said.

Under today’s product liability laws any entity that has ever had title to an aircraft remains liable for the entire life of that air vehicle, Jensen said.

There are no statistics readily available on the chartering of helicopters by executives. But David Lawrence, director of strategic planning for Sikorsky Aircraft, a Stratford, Conn.-based division of United Technologies Corp., said executive ″flight hours are up. This has been steady growth in the last five years and significantly in the last two or three.″

″What’s different is that a lot of flight hours are not taking place in their own helicopters. What they are doing instead is chartering helicopters. The charter business is up,″ Lawrence said.

Matt Zuccaro, a spokesman for the Eastern Region Helicopter Council in Newark, N.J., said: ″Trendwise it is quite apparent to us in the industry that executives are using helicopters more and more and chartering rather than going out and purchasing, owning and operating.″

Here are some sketchy statistics:

-Helicopter takeoffs and landings at Manhattan’s four public-use heliports rose 6.8 percent to 146,150 in 1985, according to the council.

-There were 3,120 non-military heliports in the country last year, an increase of 34 percent from 1980, the Helicopter Association International said. New Jersey has the largest number, 413.

Damin mirros that growth.

Founded three years ago with just two helicopters, the company now operates with 35 pilots and 21 helicopters, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, out of a 50,000-square-foot facility in Weehawken, N.J.

Damin’s fleet consists of Aerospatiale AStars, Sikorsky S-76s and Bell 222s, all of which are leased. Some of the helicopters are equipped with a conference table, a beverage center, a telephone, a television and a VCR.

Flights can be catered with refreshments. And Damin can arrange limousine service at either end of the flight.

Damin has had three accidents and one fatality, a pilot, Amanzio said.

Five percent of Damin’s flights are canceled because of bad weather, he said.

Damin had revenues of $7 million in 1985. It expects this year’s to reach $12 million. The company, a partnership, does not release profit figures but says it is operating in the black.

End Adv Weekend Editions Oct. 11-12

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