On The Up and Up
By Frances & Michael Howorth
Seventy years after the military’s first experimentation with shipboard helicopter operations, the partnership between air and sea has become considerably more refined. Offering convenience, speed and considerable glamor, helicopter arrival or departure from a yacht is a truly unique experience, but also one that presents distinctive challenges.
Once strictly a status symbol, the utilization of helicopters aboard superyachts has changed dramatically in the twenty-first century. Owners are now using helicopters more frequently, giving them and their guests the ability to de-plane at an airport and travel directly to their yacht in a safe, secure, rapid and direct mode.
In today’s security-conscious environment this has become the number one reason for the increasing use of helicopter transportation. Called by many yacht crew; the Budgie, helicopters can be used to service yachts as small as 35 metres but typically it is a yacht of 50 metres and upwards that can afford the luxury of a dedicated helipad. Many owners of larger yachts use helicopters in their day to day business so when they vacation or have business that involves their yacht, the helicopter pilot acts very much as their chauffeur.
Perhaps the smallest of the most widely utilized helicopters servicing superyachts is the Robinson R44 Raven II series. Fully equipped, this piston powered machine holds 3 passengers, is air-conditioned, and has pop-out floatation, which allows landing in the water for emergency or necessary use. With a low acquisition price, lower than average hourly operation expenses, excellent reliability and one of the best safety records of all helicopters, this is the workhorse of the industry.
The next most popular machines are turbine, or jet powered helicopters. These include the Bell 407 series a single engine 6 passenger machine and helicopters from the Airbus Range. These are followed by Sikorsky twin-engine helicopters, and those from the Augusta line.
These helicopters are usually seen on larger yachts mostly because of their high acquisition and maintenance costs. These larger footprint machines generally require the use of 2 pilots depending on the number of hours flown per year.
Once you have determined the use for your helicopter, it becomes easier to choose which is right for your yacht. Cruising in the Arctic for example on an expedition yacht would probably utilize a twin-engine turbine for safety reasons and the ability to transport passengers in case of a medical or business emergency. Popping in and out of a home base, an R-44 might be perfect as a shuttle for the passengers to and from the yacht and the same machine can be used for the crew changes, grocery shopping, provisioning and as a limousine.
It seems that when it comes to carrying choppers on super yachts, the business of buying, chartering and using them is ON THE UP AND UP!