São Paulo Traffic Report
It's rotor to rotor out there.
- By Carl A. Posey
- Air & Space magazine, November 2002
(Page 2 of 5)
Over the southwest neighborhood of Morumbi, said to be São Paulo’s wealthiest, one begins to see residential helipads, as blue as swimming pools and almost as ubiquitous. There are 20 in this one area, some with an interesting accessory: concealed snipers, to discourage low-flying intruders. The fact that São Paulo has more than its share of murders and robberies, and contends with other South American countries for the kidnapping crown, hasn’t hurt the helicopter trade. Trapped in a bog of automotive traffic, a powerful executive or socialite is vulnerable to anyone bent on collecting a ransom. After dark, cab drivers tend not to stop even for traffic lights.
But the booming helicopter culture in São Paulo is not the creation of gridlock, crime, and the way the wealthy forage for convenience. It took root in the ashes of the Andraus Building fire.
Even now, the Andraus fire is never far away. “My father put our three helicopters up saving people,” recalls Marco Antonio Audi, who sells helicopters and operates an air transport and taxi service. “We took out 262 people from the roof. One pilot told me that when he arrived over the building, a hundred people were trying to grab the helicopter.”
One result of the disaster was the requirement that all public buildings have either a full sprinkler system or a rooftop helipad. The latter not only enhanced fire safety, it added marketability to commercial structures. Paulistanos today take a certain pride in not being able to fix, from one week to the next, the precise number of helipads in their city, but put the current total at about 250, en route to 400 or more. Manhattan has five.
Not surprisingly, the abundant facilities have attracted a cloud of helicopters. Of about 900 in Brazil, nearly two-thirds operate in and around São Paulo, which has the planet’s third largest helicopter population, after New York, with 2,000, and Tokyo, with 700. But no other city is as accommodating to vertical flight as São Paulo, or has a population more inclined to use it. Brazilians are famous for a readiness to transform the technically new and exotic into the tried and true.
Audi Helicopters has certainly found this to be the case. Marco Audi is in an office at the Campo de Marte airport, a large general-aviation field on the north rim of town, where flocks of rotary-wing machines clatter to and from a host of schools and air taxi operations along the tarmac. “Audi Helicopters was the first company dedicated to helicopters here,” he says. “My father bought his first in 1967—a Bell 206—hence my passion.”
That first 206 was joined by another, and then by a Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm MBB-105 twin-turbine ship. But the empire over which Audi now presides is the creation less of those aircraft than of a lightweight alternative from the United States: Frank Robinson’s relatively inexpensive piston-powered machines, which Audi introduced in Brazil during the 1980s. The congruence of Robinson’s designs and the rotary-wing infrastructure of São Paulo created a niche that Marco Audi has deftly exploited. About a third of the civil helicopters now operating in Brazil are Robinsons, brokered by Audi.
He discovers markets everywhere he looks. “I believe that Brazil is the number one market in the world for ENG,” he says, referring to aircraft rigged for electronic news gathering. Over São Paulo, 14 Robinson R-22s give live traffic reports every day. And in a city where most tall buildings have helipads, the light machines take the place of armored cars, carrying money from bank to bank. One security firm flies nine R-44s, several of which are in the air at any given moment. “People in the branch, when they see the bad guys, they push the alarm,” says Audi. “The helicopter is overhead in less than two minutes.