Bangalore/New Delhi: Soon there could be an easier—and very expensive—way to beat Bangalore’s infamous traffic snarls: heli-taxis.
While India’s software capital already boasts of two helipads, three others are being built amid ambitious plans to offer a helicopter commuter service to those who want to stay above the chaos and gridlocks that are now hallmarks of this rapidly expanding city.
Kingfisher Airlines plans to offer the “first heli-commuting service open to all paying customers,” said UB Global CEO V. Shashikanth, who is overseeing United Breweries City, a 1.3 million sq. ft commercial project in the city’s central business district that will include a helipad to be completed by year-end. Kingfisher Airlines is owned by United Breweries Holdings.
United Breweries does not owan a helicopter at present, said a company spokesman. Operational details, including fares, will be worked out in the next three-four months, he added. The heli-taxi service will be one part of the business that includes conventional heli-charter services aimed at corporate and government clients.
Meanwhile, officials at Deccan Aviation, which owns Air Deccan, the country’s biggest budget carrier, are already doing the maths on how to make money off well-heeled travellers who need to get from the city’s centre to the airport, but don’t have two hours to waste in traffic.
“It is definitely the future,” said Jayanth Pooviah, head of Deccan Aviation, which owns 11 twin-engine helicopters. “But it will take a little while, while things are worked out.”
Two new helipads are being constructed in real-estate projects coming up adjacent to the International Tech Park in the eastern suburb of Whitefield, and are likely to form the spokes from which commuters could reach the hub at Devanahalli in north Bangalore, where the international airport is located.
Pooviah estimates that a 15-minute ride from the city’s centre to the new international airport—being built 40 km north of the city—would cost at least Rs5,500, almost the same as the two-hour, economy flight from Delhi.
To break even, each helicopter would have to find about 1,000 paying customers a month, according to quick estimates by Pooviah.
“If you have that kind of volumes, we will (have) a go at this,” he said. “Even though there could be a gestation period, I am looking at the way things are growing here.”
Other hurdles also need to be overcome before these plans—and heli-taxis—take off. A helicopter flight from the city to the new Bangalore airport would have to loop around the Yelahanka Air Force base, which is considered restricted airspace.
At the same time, for the service to be financially viable, each helicopter would have to make at least four flights a day, carrying six or seven passengers on a twin-engine helicopter that costs almost $1.3 million. That means facilities at the airport would have to be revamped or built, and flight paths created where the low-flying helicopters do not interfere with commercial airplanes taking off or landing.
“Not only do we have to create a market, we have to create the other things that go along with having such a service,” concedes Pooviah.
Some companies based in Bangalore already have their own private helipads.
Outsourcing services provider Accenture has one on its south Bangalore campus. Technology major Infosys has a helipad each on its campus at Electronic City, outside Bangalore, and at its corporate training centre in Mysore, Karnataka’s second-largest city. These are used primarily for top executives and visiting dignitaries. An Infosys spokesperson declined to discuss if those helipads would be made available for third-party use.
“Although we have no space available to construct a helipad within Electronic City, a heli-taxi service connecting this campus to the international airport, almost 60 km away, will cut down commuting time by at least two hours,” said Lt-Col Mohan Chandra of the Electronic City Industry Association that oversees infrastructure development in the technology hub.
While plans for a heli-taxi service in Delhi and Mumbai have been discussed in the past, no such service is operational yet. Helipads built in haste are lying unused on corporate properties in Mumbai.
Helipads are fast emerging as the new markers of growth on city landscapes, following a trend seen before in rapidly growing cities from Sao Paulo to Jakarta. Sao Paulo, the biggest and most prosperous city in South America, had 250 helipads at last count. New York has about 20.