Since 1990 Brazil's helicopter fleet has swelled from 277 of varying types to 945 rotary-wing aircraft, of which around 400 operate within the state of São Paulo. Only 80 of the 450 turboshaft-powered helicopters registered in Brazil are employed on offshore work, while the remaining machines are used primarily for corporate transportation. There has also been a significant increase in the numbers of owner-flown light piston-powered helicopters.

The remarkable growth of rotary-wing corporate aviation in Brazil over the past five to six years is attributable to the peculiarities of the country's larger cities. Brazil's five largest cities have populations exceeding 2 million, with São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro housing over 10 million and nearly 6 million, respectively. Brazilian cities sprawl over large areas and bear no similarity to the organised urbanisation typical of US cities; the roads of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are labyrinths that become clogged by massive traffic jams every day.

Added to this, says aerospace analyst Bill Dane, are "the very real fears of kidnapping and the badly flooded roads causing highway shutdowns, particularly in São Paulo". The increase in corporate helicopter travel began in the early 1990s. Limited only by Brazilian aeronautical legislation, which prohibits regular operations from unregistered helicopter landing sites, the city's urban helicopter numbers began to grow as the number of registered rooftop helipads or other conveniently located landing areas increased. With 350 helicopters now operating within São Paulo, Brazilian aeronautical authorities were forced to implement 17 rotary-wing-dedicated air corridors that link the city's 95 registered helipads.

With locally built Eurocopter AS350B Esquilos and AS355 Esquilo-Bis as the predominant turboshaft-powered helicopter type, São Paulo executives are beginning to show more interest in twin-engined instrument flight rules-equipped helicopters - not for local flights, but rather for long distance sorties to Rio de Janeiro, 348km (216 miles) away. Although a commercial or corporate jet flight between the two cities rarely takes more than 40min, the total time spent in transit from office to airport and between destination airport and destination office can easily exceed three hours. This compares with the 90min helipad-to-helipad flight between these two cities, and as a result, there has been a significant rise in corporate-owned Bell 430s, Eurocopter AS365s and EC155s.

Belatedly, Rio de Janeiro has followed São Paulo's lead in nurturing corporate helicopter aviation, mainly because it does not yet face the same surface transport problems as São Paulo. Furthermore, Rio de Janeiro is physically smaller and the distances between its financial and industrial centres are much shorter. Nonetheless, the city saw the launch of a regular air shuttle service between downtown Rio de Janeiro and one of its more affluent outlying neighbourhoods. Catering for junior executives and charging fares that competed favourably with taxis, the 10min flights were performed with Esquilos. But that enterprise lasted little more than a year.

Source: Flight International