Buying your first superyacht helicopter
Written by Luke Wheeler
Last updated: 02/08/2017
Travelling to and from your yacht via helicopter is one of the most convenient and hassle-free methods of transportation available for owners and guests. Whether you’re travelling to arrive on board, or popping off the yacht to enjoy some lunch ashore, having a helicopter available can enable you to skip the roads and enjoy your free time more effectively.
To fly, or be flown?
The big question: do you want to pilot your own helicopter to fly yourself and family around at will? Or would you rather own the helicopter and simply hire a pilot when required? There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, but really it comes down entirely to personal circumstance. Some owners will love the idea of flying their own helicopter, whilst others can’t fathom the thought.
For those wishing to purchase and fly their own chopper, a PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence) will need to be trained for and obtained. For a newbie, this will take a minimum of 45 hours flight training, and you will need to pass several exams on topics such as navigation and meteorology. Studying, time and commitment is required, but if the helicopter will be flown frequently, being able to fly it yourself will come in very useful.
A pilot could also simply be hired to fly your helicopter for you when you need it. Many commercial pilots can be hired from around £350 per day plus expenses, though of course rates will vary. If your helicopter is to be used infrequently, such as for a few short flights per year, this option is generally more hassle-free, and enables you delegate all the flying skills required to someone else.
Choosing the aircraft itself
When choosing your first helicopter, whether you’re going to be flying it yourself or not, your best bet is probably going to be consulting with someone who knows their stuff. Unless you’re a dedicated aviation enthusiast, picking the right helicopter for you is going to be a more considered process. One thing you will often know beforehand however, is whether you’re going to be purchasing a piston-engine machine or a jet-turbine alternative.
Without getting too technical, a piston-engine helicopter is generally smaller, slower, and has less range than its jet-turbine brothers. This, however, makes them a much lower-cost proposition and far more economically advantageous for many owners. For example, an entry-level Robinson R44, which accomodates a pilot and three others, costs around $375,000 purchased new, and as a result is tremendously popular.
Compare the price of a Robinson to an Airbus H120 or H130. These jet-turbine choppers will carry a pilot and five or six passengers and cost around €2.5m or €3.5m respectively.
The small print
Insurance, restricted flying hours, hangar storage; these are the boring bits that we like to not think about until we have to. Unfortunately, the world of aviation is rife with rules and regulations; and for good reason!
For example, with the examples of helicopter models I gave above, all of those can only be flown during the day (at least in the UK and UK airspace; rules vary slightly in other territories) as only appropriately equipped twin-engine helicopters are authorised to fly after dark under IFR (Instrument Flight Rules).
Then, you have insurance and storage to think about. It is unwise to keep a helicopter on the deck of your superyacht all year round, so during periods of no use, the helicopter should have a safe and proper home. You will also need to insure the chopper, which typically costs around 3% of the aircraft’s value.
Maintenance is another big one; a helicopter simply cannot be flown unless it is completely healthy. Regulations around maintenance and flight safety are rigorous, particularly when being used around corrosive environments like the sea.
Up, up and away
If you can safely shoulder the burden of owning, operating, and possibly even flying a helicopter, you will be compensated with unparalleled freedom. Helicopters can skip the roads, land and take off in far more places than a jet or plane can and will truly complement a luxury yachting experience.