Private jets used to be the domain of the rich and famous but is now common place and lower down the food chain with the advent of private jet timeshare and fractional ownershi
The ‘Next Big Thing’ is the private luxury helicopter…..
The modern V.V.I.P. now demands state-of-the-art, customised and bespoke helicopters. After the private jet lands at a quiet airfield, the despotic dictator or ultra-wealthy individual likes to leap over traffic and tall buildings to land close to (or at) their final destination. A standard utility helicopter is not good enough as these billionaires want to travel in total comfort.
Major helicopter manufacturers such as Sikorsky, Bell Helicopter, Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo (formerly AgustaWestland Helicopters) have developed designs for this very demanding sector.
Last year, Airbus launched Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) to produce luxury versions of its helicopter range under a single brand.
Italian manufacturer Leonardo, is aiming to launch a revolutionary tiltrotor aircraft – the AW609 – with the characteristics of both airplanes and helicopters in 2019. Leonardo ostensibly already have 60 orders worldwide for the AW609 (at $24 – 30 Million each) and expect many more after people realise its versatility.
Until now, such tiltrotors have been restricted to American military use, able to fly either as an aircraft or as a helicopter by switching the rotor position between the horizontal and vertical positions. Combining the ability to take off and land vertically with the speed and range of turboprop fixed-winged aircraft, they are likely to attract customers from both the helicopter and executive jet sectors.
The compromise is that they are slower than a jet in aircraft mode but the advantage is door-to-door travel. The AW609 has capacity for nine passengers, but Leonardo is already working on larger versions.
U.S. manufacturer Sikorsky is developing the new Marine One presidential helicopter – the VH-92A – while Bell Helicopter has the first fly-by-wire helicopter, the spacious Bell 525 Relentless. Fly-by-wire control systems are the norm in commercial aircraft but not yet common in helicopters.
Mecaer Aviation Group provided the luxury interior for the first commercially operated Bell 505 including upgrades to the interior panels, seats and carpet. Having their design studio in Rome, the ‘Made in Italy’ label is apparently a selling point with their VVIP clientele.
What makes for a Luxury Helicopter?
VVIP helicopters are distinctly upgraded from their standard workhorse equivalents.
Cabin design is obvious but there are technology advances not immediately noticeable but vital for cabin comfort. One such design is the isolated cabin from the airframe to reduce noise, vibration and harshness; the SILENS interior by Mecaer Aviation.
As well as specialist aerospace studios like Mecaer, helicopter manufacturers are also forming partnerships with top luxury brands from outside the aviation industry.
Airbus Helicopters has partnered with Hermes and Mercedes-Benz for its ACH Edition range, while Leonardo has tapped into fashion brands such as Versace and Karl Lagerfeld.
The ACH145 brings together speed and comfort to create the optimum “time machine”. The spacious and flexible cabin can be outfitted with interiors that bring a touch of class for passengers – including the “Stylence” design developed by Airbus Helicopters.
A step higher in elegance is the leather and wood interior, designed by Mercedes-Benz. The basic H145 helicopter costs just under $10 Million so who knows what the upmarket ACH145 will set you back?
VIDEO ACH145 Mercedes Benz
Of Space and Weight
Helicopter designers have to contend with the space and weight limitations for this class of aircraft; you are still asked for your weight or are weighed before boarding a helicopter. Thus, luxury tends to be more subtle when compared to business jets.
Although customers are restricted by a functional cabin in helicopters, there is scope for some customisation. Although the average helicopter journey is short, cabin comfort, habitability and reduced noise levels are vital to the average billionaire.
Sikorsky touts the low noise levels of its 6-passenger S-76D model ($15 Million), while Bell Helicopter highlights flight smoothness and reduced vibration as central features of its new Bell 525 Relentless model ($15 Million). The ultra luxury cabin seems huge because standard ‘cattle class’ Bell 525 models were meant for 19 passengers plus two pilots.
“The true cost of luxury is the choice that it affords!”
VVIP passengers do not like to wear noise-reduction headsets in their helicopters as they don’t have to use them on their private jets. Smart technology contributes to reduced noise levels as well as a smart inflight entertainment system, one they can control with their own hand-held devices to adjust their environment: temperature, light levels and even dimming of the electrochromic windows.
Leonardo redesigned the auxiliary power unit for their VVIP models so that cabin temperatures can be adjusted while on the ground without the need for the rotors to be turning.
When do you need a helicopter?
The primary use is for short urban commutes because of urbanisation and megacities rife with ground traffic jams. It is not simply coincidence that Sao Paulo was the launch city for ‘VOOM‘, a ride-on-demand urban helicopter service by Airbus, followed by Mexico City. A road traffic jam that took 3 hours can now be flown in 15 minutes.
The sexy secondary use is the recreational market.
Our uber-wealthy VVIP usually find secluded, literally exclusive locations for their playgrounds. Without usual ground transport links to their private islands, mountain ranches and superyachts, the helicopter comes into its own.
Who wants to bob up and down on rough seas when going ashore from the mega-yacht? Helicopters are increasingly being used for ferry duties. Airbus collaborates with mega-yacht designer Peder Eidsgaard to incorporate hanger facilities on his yachts. Airbus has even launched the ‘ACH Yacht Interface’ app for yacht designers and shipbuilders wanting to slip a helicopter or two into their yachts.
Lastly, a helicopter is only useful when it is available where you are.
VVIP helicopter service companies like Luxaviation and subsidiaries of major helicopter manufacturers provide maintenance services, pilots and even rent out your helicopter as a concierge service when you’re not using it.
There is much innovation afoot in the helicopter world.
The aforementioned commercial tiltrotors in 2019 are likely to be joined by other vertical take off and landing (VTOL) concepts.
On 31st January 2018, the first flight of Vahana – a single passenger, electric, VTOL self-piloted aircraft – was announced by Airbus, A³, and the Vahana team. It only reached a height of 5 meters (16 feet) before descending but marked a new avenue for urban mobility.
Airbus also has the CityAirbus electric helicopter concept in development and Uber is partnering with Bell Helicopter on the Uber Elevate aerotaxi.
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).