Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are set to revive the New York-style helicopter transportation services when choppers ply routes above Manhattan’s skyscrapers in the heyday of door-to-door rides catering to business travellers and big-spending tourists.
The three cities are said to be trialing cross-boundary helicopter services among their respective airports and CBDs after such chopper rides have been largely banned by the US city in the aftermath of a spate of accidents.
Last month, a direct helicopter service between Hong Kong and Guangzhou, capital of the neighboring Guangdong province, was launched to link, first the two cities’ airports and then Hong Kong’s Central district and Guangzhou’s bustling Pearl River New Town.
An Airbus H135 light utility helicopter featuring twin engines and noise and vibration-proof fuselage flew the route’s maiden flight, which departed from Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport and landed at the heliport of Shun Tak Centre in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district after a 45-minute, 160-kilometer flight. By comparison, a ride aboard a bullet train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong takes about 75 minutes.
An adrenaline-inducing ride that is a feast to the eye with both sights of the two cities’ glittering skylines and stunning vistas of the Pearl River and sea costs about 5,000 yuan (US$707) per person including taxes and other surcharges during the promotional period, according to Heli-Eastern, the operator.
More tailor-made corporate transportation services between city centers touted as “roof-to-roof” links are also in the pipeline, with charges varying according to routes and other safety and regulatory requirements.
The company is said to be mulling launching a demonstration hop by the end of the year from the helipad atop Guangzhou’s 450-meter, 103-storey International Finance Center in the Pearl River New Town to Hong Kong’s ultra-luxurious Peninsula Hotel on the Victoria Harbor waterfront or the heliport near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Wan Chai, subject to regulatory approval.
A helicopter service between Guangzhou and Macau will also be introduced in the future to cater to trade and business exchanges throughout the Greater Bay Area, a mega-economic dynamo that includes Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen as key drivers.
Indeed, Hong Kong has been running regular helicopter services to and from Macau for decades for business travellers and high-rollers and a one-way hop costs about HK$4,100 (US$523). The operator, a subsidiary of the business empire of casino magnet Stanley Ho, also runs chartered services to Shenzhen’s Baoan Airport, which take just 15 minutes, as well as to other cities in the Bay Area to tap the bourgeoning travel needs by deep-pocketed executives and professionals, as they need to zip between cities for business conferences and negotiations.
But red tape may still ground the launch of more routes serving the area whose annal economic output is edging closer to that of the New York metropolitan area, as it reportedly took almost two years for another Hong Kong-Shenzhen airport service to get off the ground.
An operator of such a cross-boundary aerial transportation service has to secure approval from at least 10 government agencies in both Hong Kong and the mainland, including the respective civil aviation regulators and the Chinese military, which needs to review and approve each and every flight even operated by a helicopter on low-altitude inter-city services.
The Chinese air force is in the process of gradually opening up more airspace for civil and general aviation but the corridors above major cities are getting crowded with more skyscrapers piercing the skies and more construction is underway. Still, government backing and a strong market outlook may provide some crucial tailwind, and more supetalls being erected in these cities also mean more sites for helipads.