São Paulo Traffic Report
It's rotor to rotor out there.
- By Carl A. Posey
- Air & Space magazine, November 2002
(Page 3 of 5)
“We brought the concept of LOJAC [a stolen-car recovery system] here,” he continues. “When LOJACIL opened in Brazil, we gave them the idea of using helicopters. Sold three helicopters. They’re up all day, all night.”
Then there’s the filthy rich, who have always known that life is better at a thousand feet and a hundred knots. But in São Paulo, vertical thinking is taking place among the merely rich and nearly rich as well. There may be only a handful of people wealthy enough to own and operate a $7 million twin, but there are legions with enough money to consider something less expensive, like an R-44.
To help that thinking along, Audi and a young partner, Allan James Paiotti, have set up an ownership arrangement called Helisolutions, which appears to be feasible only amid the helicopter-oriented culture of Brazil. The cost of the machine is divided among 10 clients, each paying about $40,000 for a share of an R-44 and some fraction of the costs of owning and operating a helicopter. Each helicopter has a satellite transponder linked to the Helisolutions control center, where headquarters can monitor in real time the position, altitude, and velocity of its entire fleet. If an aircraft drifts off the computer-prepared route, it triggers an alarm. In practice, the system lets Audi connect each customer with the nearest helicopter. “You actually have a piece of one specific helicopter, but you have access to a great fleet,” Paiotti explains. “All R-44s look exactly alike. All you do is make a call and get a helicopter. It’s as if the helicopter is your own.”
Fractional helicopter ownership has taken off in Brazil. Since December 1999, Helisolutions has sold 80 shares in R-44s. The company is also prepared should a Robinson shareholder come down with turbine envy. For about $124,000 and a matching bump in associated costs, a customer can move up to Eurocopter’s EC-120 Colibri single; $198,000 gets you a piece of an AS-350 B3 Esquilo, also from Eurocopter; and for a mere $1.3 million, you can buy one-fifth of a Bell 430 twin, which seats up to 10 people in a roomy, leather-trimmed cabin.
A different way to pool resources is the Latin American practice called consórcio, which is how Helibras, a division of Eurocopter Brazil, is hoping to market its AS-350, a single-turbine helicopter that starts at $1.2 million. At the Helibras complex at São Paulo’s Campo de Marte airport, Helibras commercial director Fabrice Cagnat explains how the consórcio works: “You join a group of people who want to buy something, an apartment, a car, whatever.” In buying an automobile, for example, 10 people get together and each pays one-tenth of the cost of the car each month. “At the end of one month, you own one car. The lottery within the group gives the car to one owner. In 10 months you buy 10 cars.” It’s a welcome alternative to taking out a loan; in Brazil, interest rates can reach 17 percent per month.
Cagnat talks helicopters with the confidence of someone holding four kings. Eurocopter Brazil set up a factory under the Helibras name at São Jose dos Campos, some 60 miles up the Rio highway from São Paulo, for the assembly of the popular AS-350. Today, Eurocopter holds about half the Brazilian military market for rotary-wing machines. “In the civil market our share is not as extraordinary as we’d like,” says Cagnat. “But our sales share is [still] quite good. We do not consider Robinson as a competition. After [customers] get used to rotary wing, they go to Eurocopters. One customer bought a piston, now wants to get a turbine.”
Cagnat believes that demand is open-ended: “Brazil has about 160 million people. One percent of them can afford helicopters. That’s 1.6 million potential users.” With Heliplano, Helibras’ consórcio, that number is even greater. But don’t try this at home. Like Audi’s Helisolutions, Heliplano may be possible only in a helicopter-hungry country like Brazil.
In São Paulo, no matter how you buy your helicopter, once you’re an owner, you’ll probably spend some time at Helicentro. A manicured island of rotary-wing aviation, it caters to its wealthy neighborhood, Morumbi, and others like it. “Maybe we found a niche,” says Helicentro owner Ricardo Zuccolo. “We’re the only company with a facility outside the airport. We have more than a hundred customers.”