Kate Sarsfield/LONDON


The first UK-based helicopter fractional ownership programme aimed at the European market is scheduled for launch on 1 September by helicopter sales and training company Skyhopper. The Marlow-based firm, which acquired Virgin Helicopters in August last year, will kick-start its helicopter "retained charter" programme simultaneously.

"We were originally planning to launch the programmes in January 2000, but there has been such a strong demand that we have brought them forward by four months," says Skyhopper managing director Mark Bunce.

Skyhopper is adapting retail industry philosophy to the fractional and leasing programmes by eliminating the complexities of organising travel. "When you visit the supermarket, it is taken for granted that your favourite or essential items will be in stock," says Bunce.

"We have adopted this approach to our business by taking the hassle away from travel arranging. Customers will be offered a complete service [from door-to-door] which will be available round the clock," Bunce adds.

Skyhopper plans to launch the programmes with two Sikorsky S-76s and two Eurocopter AS355N twin Squirrels, the latter to be used as back-up aircraft. A Bell 430 will be added soon, and a further aircraft at the end of the year.

Skyhopper is also planning to offer the Agusta 109E Power, which will be added to the fleet as demand grows. All Skyhopper aircraft will be manned by two flight crew.

Similar terms will apply to the fractional and retained charter programmes. While fractional ownership customers buy a share in an aircraft, charter clients buy the equivalent number of occupied flight hours. For example, a one-eighth share provides 75h, a quarter share 150h and a half share 300h.

Monthly management and per passenger flying hour charges are also applied to both programmes at varying rates, although financial terms have not been disclosed. All customers will be guaranteed an aircraft within 6h for a half share or 300h per year contract, or 12h for other shares or contracts.

Skyhopper plans to establish a network of bases across Europe offering maintenance and handling services.

Source: Flight International