São Paulo Traffic Report
It's rotor to rotor out there.
- By Carl A. Posey
- Air & Space magazine, November 2002
(Page 4 of 5)
The 35 or so helicopters at Helicentro are turbine-powered—Zuccolo’s Shell dealership doesn’t even sell fuel for piston engines. “Easier for our technicians to do one kind of engine,” says Zuccolo. “With turbines, maintenance is cheaper, more profit.”
A walk through the Helicentro hangar is a walk through the current state of the helicopter art, with several dozen Bells, Agustas, Eurocopters, and Sikorskys. The 28-year-old son of a local businessman owns and flies an MD-250 that looks like a black widow spider—his million-dollar flying Ferrari. But helicopter ownership in São Paulo doesn’t mean you have to learn to fly one. Most owners hire a pilot.
Flying a helicopter is one of the good jobs in Brazil. An entry-level commercial R-44 pilot might earn 4,000 reals—about $1,600—a month, plus benefits. Most commercial helicopter pilots earn about twice that, and those flying the larger ships may bring in $80,000 a year. There are always good slots waiting for high-time helicopter captains, who are hard to find and harder to keep. This standing opportunity has drawn legions of aspiring pilots to about a dozen flight schools in São Paulo, each of which churns out perhaps 50 pilots a year. Most budding pilots become instructors as soon as they earn a rating; then, when they’ve built sufficient time, they head for what everyone calls Offshore.
Offshore is shorthand for a host of oil fields—in the Amazon delta and on the north coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Offshore is where pilots deepen their experience, flying in extreme conditions rarely encountered over the mainland. After working Offshore, they graduate to flying for a corporation or private owner.
Marco Infante, now the captain of a Bell 407 kept at Congonhas Airport, falls somewhere between the new kids learning at Campo de Marte and the old eagles. He got his licenses in the United States, in Van Nuys, California. When he came home, he found work as a Bell 407 copilot. “A lot of jobs after that,” he says. “Some time Offshore, always as a copilot. Then I started flying the jungle. Then I came to São Paulo, to the market for VIP aircraft.”
But Infante’s job isn’t with a corporation. “The kind of work that I do is for the owner,” he says. “A few flights during weekdays, but mostly on weekends. They own the 407. The whole family is flying now. Saturday morning I flew them to the beach. Sunday I’ll pick them up.”
His friend and colleague, Luiz Cintra, also learned to fly in the United States, then worked as an instructor for a couple of years in São Paulo before moving on to flying traffic helicopters, air taxis, and, for a corporate job in which he flew VIPs, a Jet-
Ranger. Now he flies the Agusta 109 for a private owner. “It’s fun,” he says, noting that landing on highrise rooftops “is no big deal. We always land to a point. It doesn’t matter where the point is. But there is no ground effect [the cushion of air helicopters create near the ground] on rooftops. When the client wants to carry a lot of stuff, you have to know how to say no.”