Why I Won’t Sell You “Just a Helicopter Ride”

It just isn’t worth the bother.

Today I got yet another e-mail from yet another person looking for a cheap helicopter ride. I get a few e-mails and calls a month. They’re all pretty much the same:

Person A really wants a helicopter ride. The e-mailer/caller wants to get Person A the ride but the e-mailer/caller is not rich. Besides, Person A doesn’t really need a long flight. “Just a short ride.” You know. Not too expensive.

What the e-mailer/caller doesn’t understand is that I’m already operating my helicopter charter business on very tight margins. My hourly rate is as low as I can make it. If I start slicing it up to do 20 or 30 minute “rides,” I’m bringing in very little money.

Yet every time I fly, I have the same routine to follow:

  1. Book the flight.
  2. Create a manifest and weight and balance.
  3. File a flight plan (I do all passenger flights as Part 135 flights).
  4. Go to the airport.
  5. Pull out the helicopter.
  6. Fuel the helicopter.
  7. Preflight the helicopter.
  8. Wait for the passengers.
  9. Brief the passengers.
  10. Do the flight.
  11. Collect payment for the flight.
  12. Close my flight plan.
  13. Postflight the helicopter.
  14. Put away the helicopter.
  15. Go home.

I get paid for doing #10. On a 20-minute flight, I might net $30-$40. But the whole process outlined here could take 3 hours or more for that 20-minute flight.

Tell me, do you think it’s worth the bother?

Don’t get me wrong. I like to fly. And I understand that I often have to do things that I don’t want to do to build my business. (Believe me, I do plenty of things I don’t want to do.) But I also know that I can’t build my business selling occasional helicopter rides to mommies for their 10-year-old kids.

A few years ago, I decided that it simply wasn’t worth a trip to the airport for less than an hour of flight time. I drew the line there and I won’t cross it.

So don’t ask me for “just a helicopter ride.” I don’t think it’s worth just three hours of my life to sell you one.

8 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Sell You “Just a Helicopter Ride”

  1. @Jonathan Bailey
    I really do want to put something like that together. The main problem is LZs. I’m not allowed to land on public land for hire. That means all caches must be on private land, preferably land I can get permission to land a helicopter on.

    My helicopter business goal is to distinguish myself from other operators by offering things they don’t. While few (if any) will do short rides on demand, I’d prefer to cater to a clientele with more than $200 to spend and a solid understanding of the value of a professional helicopter operation.

  2. Oops. Need to be clear.

    I’m not allowed to land on public land for hire without a permit. A permit takes 12-24 months to obtain. Been there, done that, not interested in doing it again. :-(

  3. Now if you could get a bunch of people to agree on a single day, you might get some economies of scale to do some of these smaller rides. Just a thought. (Maybe require payment in advance via Google Payments, PayPal, etc.). The Museum of Flight in Seattle often has biplane rides like this.

    But it only would work if you can get enough of these small jobs to line up for a single day.

  4. @Greg Glockner
    I do rides at events. They run about 8 minutes in length and normally go for $25 to $35 per person, depending on venue. It’s a great opportunity for families to treat their kids to something special without breaking the bank. I usually do well at these events, making it completely worthwhile.

    Unfortunately, these event opportunities are dwindling as the economy sags. Hopefully, I’ll still get a chance to do a few events throughout the year.

What do you think?