Cabifly offers helicopter rides in Sao Paulo

Global Business

Helicopters aren’t considered a typical commuter option – except in the circles of celebrities or the super-rich. But could that change? In Brazil, there’s a new business model being tested – that seeks to make helicopter travel an affordable reality.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral has our report on “Cabifly” – an Uber-style service for the air – now operating in traffic-choked Sao Paulo.

GetNinjas founder and CEO Eduardo L’Hotellier is using an app on his phone- to hail a helicopter. It’s “Cabifly.” Call it a “pilot project” – offering flights in Sao Paulo for relatively low costs.

L’Hotellier is paying about $50 to go to the local airport in seven minutes sharp. To the international airport – a 15 minute flight – it would cost about $80.

“Sometimes traffic in SaoPaulo is a mess. You never know how much time it’s gonna take. Maybe ten minutes but maybe one hour. With this service I can have more meetings during a day and with more meetings I can make more money and can grow my business even faster so it’s much more an investment than a luxury,” L’Otellier said.

The lower prices are possible because helicopters spend most of their time on the ground. So transport companies Cabify and Voom partnered with owners and operators who’d rather maximize their flying time, and still see a profit.

This Cabify executive said an initial three month program has been successful and will continue.

“The operators have a big challenge to optimize their helicopters because they start like 20 percent on the air and 80 percent on the ground. If we have a comparison in the beginning of the project these helicopters increased about 50% the number of trips daily,” Cabify Brazil Managing Director Daniel Bedoya said.

According to Brazil’s Helicopter Pilots Association, Sao Paulo has about 400 registered helicopters and 200 helipads spread across the city. So there’s much idle capacity out there and potential for business – if there is sufficient demand.

“So, they are trying to lower the bar a little bit and achieve a population that has the potential to pay a little bit more than a taxi or a luxury limousine to go to the airport. But still I don’t see the interest of the people that would have the capacity to use this kind of service,” Brazilian Association of Helicopter Pilots President Arthur Fioratti said.

It’s unlikely we’ll see helicopters crowding the skies during rush hour any time soon. But as technologies advance, it’s hard to predict the future of air transport – with drones for example – and some companies want to be in a position to embrace that future when it arrives.

Shanjiang Zhu takes a looki at the future of commuting

For more on the future of commuting, CGTN’s Susan Roberts spoke with Shanjiang Zhu, assistant professor of Transportation Engineering at George Mason University.