Helicopter taxi apps offer escape from traffic-choked megacities

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A Helicity helicopter prepares for take-off in Jakarta after receiving an order from a smartphone app. Chopper manufacturers were predicting more such services in traffic-clogged parts of Southeast Asia in particular, describing it as an “important testbed” for the wider region. (AFP)
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Crews of a Helicity helicopter preparing for take-off in Jakarta. Operated by Whitesky Aviation, Helicity now has about 60 customers each month, mostly from the business world. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2018
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Helicopter taxi apps offer escape from traffic-choked megacities

SINGAPORE: Within minutes of using an app to book a ride, Agostino Fernandes was looking down on lush greenery from a helicopter taxi high above Bangalore — one of several Uber-style chopper services taking off to help commuters tackle increasingly congested megacities.
In under 30 minutes — a quarter of the time it would have taken from downtown Bangalore by road — Fernandes was strolling through Kempegowda International Airport to his gate.
“It’s much better than the usual car or taxi because it saves time,” he said.
“And for a city like Bangalore, which they call India’s green capital because of the parks and gardens, you get a very nice view.”
From New York to Jakarta, chopper-hailing services have been taking off to help commuters beat the traffic chaos.
Private helicopter charters have been available for decades — at a price — but the latest services are far cheaper and more accessible to the public, allowing anyone with a smartphone and a credit card to order a ride with relative ease.
Sameer Rehman, Asia-Pacific managing director of Bell Helicopter, said chopper manufacturers were predicting more such services in traffic-clogged parts of Southeast Asia in particular, describing it as an “important testbed” for the wider region.
“That can be replicated throughout other cities and countries in the Asia-Pacific,” he said at a conference in Singapore.
Another similar service was recently launched in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, a chaotic metropolis of over 10 million people, which suffers some of the world’s worst jams.
Operated by Whitesky Aviation, Helicity now has about 60 customers each month, mostly from the business world.
Its services include a 20-minute ride from Jakarta airport into the heart of the city for six million rupiah ($430) for up to four people, as well as a 45-minute flight from Jakarta to Bandung, 150 kilometers away, from 14 million rupiah.
While it offers an alternative to sitting in traffic for hours and is cheaper than private charters in the past, the prices are nevertheless out of reach for most people in Jakarta, where the monthly minimum wage is about $250.
And it has not all been easy going for Whitesky in recent times — one of their helicopters crashed last month on Indonesia’s central Sulawesi island as it flew over a mining area, killing one person on the ground and injuring four passengers.
In Bangalore, one of India’s most congested megacities, HeliTaxii launched in March, offering a seat in a helicopter from the airport to IT industrial park Electronic City for about $65 per person — the same journey that Fernandes took on launch day.
In Brazil’s Sao Paulo, the app Voom offers a 30-kilometer helicopter ride to the airport for about $150 — 10 times cheaper than private charters in the past — while in New York, a chopper-hailing service ferries people between downtown and surrounding airports.
Despite the growth of such apps, industry players warn there are still major hurdles.
One is finding suitable take-off and landing sites, particularly in Asian cities. Helipads have been springing up rapidly in recent years but a large number are private and observers warn many have not been certified as safe by aviation authorities.
Another is restrictions on flying times. Whitesky Aviation chief executive Denon Prawiraatmadja said that since the Jakarta service’s five-strong fleet of choppers was for civilian purposes, they were currently only allowed to fly between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm.
“We are in the process of getting more operating hours, so it can become a 24/7 operation,” he said. “We hope this type of new regulation will allow us to grow the business.”
The company has big expansion plans: in 2016, they signed a 30-helicopter deal with Bell and will receive two Bell 505s every year until the deal is completed. It also has several fixed-wing aircraft in its fleet.
Similarly in Bangalore, Helitaxii is only allowed to fly from 6:30am to 10:00am, and in a later slot between 3:00pm to 6:00pm.
While the popularity of such services is growing, analysts say there are unlikely to be large numbers of helicopter taxis taking to the skies soon as prices — although lower than they once were — will remain a barrier.
Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at consultancy StrategicAero Research, also cautioned there was much uncertainty surrounding the nascent industry and how it would operate.
“Will there be further security screenings?” he said. “What sort of passengers will be allowed on these flights?”


New Saudi TV drama ‘Doon’ asks how far you would go to save a loved one

Updated 20 January 2019
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New Saudi TV drama ‘Doon’ asks how far you would go to save a loved one

  • “Doon” tells the story of a 19-year-old’s struggle to free his older brother from prison
  • He is about to be executed for a crime he did not commit

JEDDAH: A new Saudi drama series is set to premiere, in the latest sign that the Kingdom’s booming film and TV industry is going from strength to strength. “Doon” tells the story of a 19-year-old’s struggle to free his older brother from prison, where he is about to be executed for a crime he did not commit.
“He has to obtain SR 25 million to get his brother out of jail,” said scriptwriter Sara Al-Olayan. “He comes from a very humble kind of family; they don’t have much money and he has to find it before the execution date.
“We see how motives can kind of play with a person’s morals when it comes to someone they truly love. Morals, I would say, can shift when a person is trying to do whatever they can to get a person they care about out of jail.”
Al-Olayan joined other members of the cast and crew at film production company Millimeter on January 18 for a special event to launch the series. The 22-year-old writer said that when she joined the production there was little more than a brief description of the plot, and she was given the chance to play a major part in expanding and shaping the story.
“I fell in love with the summary of the show right away and felt that I had to be part of this,” she said. “I did my best to expand on it, to develop the story and include more characters, and to make sure that the story is culturally acceptable while also something people can relate to.”


Naif Al-Daferi, who stars as Hazem, the falsely accused older brother, is confident that the show will be hit with young people in the Kingdom.
“They will see a good representation of their community, especially the youth, and that the series talks about high schoolers not in a comedic way or in a way that insults their intelligence, so people in school will watch it,” said the 30-year-old Saudi actor. “It is the same kind of content that we expect to see in western productions — viewers will get action and drama. The premise is a big one: you have to save your brother through high-risk means.”

Co-star Fay Fouad, 23, highlighted the advances made recently by Saudi women in the local entertainment industries.
“Now we can show the world who Saudi women are and what they are capable of,” she said. “As an actress, I can tell stories from our society and portray the characters accordingly. I can tell the stories of the girls around me, and when they see me on television they see that we (women) can do it. Nothing is difficult for us.”


She said that the entire cast of “Doon” is proud of the local production.
“We are all Saudis and we are very happy with the story,” she added. “It is a unique plot, not stereotyped like other stories. It is full of surprising events. Each cast member put their heart into it and I am looking forward to its release.”
Fellow cast member Daliah Hajjar said Saudi Vision 2030 had helped to make her childhood dream come true.
“It is a wonderful feeling because I have wanted to become an actress since childhood,” said the 29-year-old Saudi. “Back in the day, such an idea wasn’t supported. My family wanted me to study medicine and so I did. I completed my studies abroad and I came home to the Saudi Vision 2030. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greatly support women. There has been a great leap forward for Saudi women during this time. I feel supported.”
“Doon” is produced by Viu Original (MENA) in cooperation with Qubba Production.