Netherlands helicopter operator Helinet is planning to launch scheduled helicopter operations between Amsterdam and Brussels next year, using three Eurocopter EC130s, in the first step to a scheduled helicopter network across the region.

Helinet plans to offer hourly helicopter services between the Dutch city and its Belgian capital, with brief stops at The Hague and Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Antwerp in Belgium from mid-2007.

It has three six-seat Eurocopter EC130s on order and sees "time-poor" business travellers and politicians as its key market.

Helinet general manager Aernoud Dekker tells Flight: “We are building a network of heliports in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and plan to operate scheduled flights between the major business centres. We will start with a service [between Amsterdam and Brussels] and have ambitions to grow the network very rapidly.”

Dekker adds that the venture progressed yesterday with the announcement of equity-based joint venture with Dutch public transport company Connexxion. He says that taxi, rail and boat operator Connexxion is the majority shareholder in the multi-million euro venture, but declines to give any further details.

Helinet, which has no existing helicopter operations and directly employs four staff, was established three years ago and has since been working to secure local authority approval to construct the heliports which will be located “at or near” central business districts.

“Everything is up and ready, but we need to secure final licences from the Dutch municipalities. In the Netherlands nobody has started a scheduled [helicopter] service seriously. It is not a question of buying helicopters, it is a question of infrastructure,” says Dekker.

Although national government approval is also required, Dekker says that this is more of a formality compared with local approval. He adds that a mid-2007 launch remains possible as construction work will only take “a few months”.

Dekker believes that Helinet will succeed because it will offer a public transport service with the backing of a strong partner. He claims that the business model has been validated by other successful scheduled helicopter operators in the south of France, Scandinavia, Canada, Hong Kong and New York.

Competing with road and rail connections, Helinet will offer taxi-style charging at the rate of €2.25 ($2.90) per road kilometre between its departure and arrival points. It will offer a 35-minute journey time between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, a journey which takes around 1h 20min by car.

Amsterdam-Brussels, which takes two hours by car, will be cut to around an hour’s journey – but this will be roughly equalled by a new high-speed rail connection which will also begin between the cities next year.

Once Helinet begins operations, it will expand in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and into Eastern Europe.

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