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Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Sao Paulo Revisited:

Claudio Agostini

Today, Sao Paulo state represents almost 34 percent of Brazil's gross national product, with this huge participation in most of the countries' activities reflected in the helicopter market. Of Brazil's nearly 1,000 civilian helicopters, roughly 455 are flying in Sao Paulo State. Of those, about 380 are in Sao Paulo city, where there is often 20-30 helicopters flying at the same time in a single 45 sq. mi. area of the Quadril�tero Executivo de Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo Executive's Quadrilateral Zone) that has reached a peak of 300 operations in a single day.

Without acute, or even medium, crisis foreseen in the near term, and reflecting the modest economic growth that returned to Latin America in 2003, Brazil is broadening its economic recovery during 2004. Its GNP forecasts provided by specialized agencies and companies foresee a growth around 2.9 percent in 2004 and 3.3 percent in 2005. This will lead to positive effects on the helicopter market that is very sensitive to GNP variations segments, mainly on executive and corporate sales. Although far from the 1997-98 "golden years", when more than 100 units were sold per year, the market is showing that is climbing out of the bottom reached by 2002. This new growth is supported by the country's positive balance of payments, return of foreign investor confidence and improvement of domestic conditions. The helicopter market is approaching a realistic 30-40 aircrafts per year forecast for 2005 onwards. It is not yet a full-scale economic revival that will boost the helicopter market for the years ahead, but positive signs are coming from strategic segments such as offshore operations. Fleet value tends to increase as forecasts are predicted for the latest versions for some top-of-the-line helicopter products.

Sao Paulo City is ranked as one of the world's three busiest helicopter zones, following New York and Tokyo, and as number one in heliports concentrated in a single area. Out of an estimated 55,000 flights per year, roughly 80 percent are for corporate/business services. The remainder of the growing number of flights are for industries such as charter, media and law enforcement. This compares to number one New York, where more than half of the estimated 70,000 helicopter flights over the city each year are sightseeing tours.

The greater Sao Paulo region is served by approximately 300 heliports, of which 70 percent, or 210, are elevated. More than 110 are in the single region of the Sao Paulo Executive Zone, where most multinationals and other big companies have their main offices.

The country's, and local business', expansion directly reflects on civil construction, primarily of new business buildings. A number of these are being built with helipads. In the last two years, the construction of business buildings with helipads reached 40 per year. In 2004, the market decreased as a result of previous year's economics, but for 2005, we might be returning to that average, according to Jo�o Carlos Marques, a heliport specialist and editor of Pilot's Help--a yearly-illustrated manual containing information on the country's heliports and helipads.

With 80 percent of the market in Sao Paulo, it is understandable that the major airframe manufacturers--AgustaWestland, Bell, Eurocopter/Helibras and Robinson--have their commercial bases there. Helibras is the Brazilian manufacturer of helicopters under license from Eurocopter.

Bell Helicopter's new local sole representative is TAM Air Taxi Mar�lia company, which belongs to Grupo TAM, owner of the two biggest airline companies in Brazil. TAM and Textron's Cessna local representative for more than 20 years have created a new horizons for their executives.

"We are adding Bell's tradition and market knowledge to TAM's aggressive sales strategies," said T�lio Brand�o marketing director from Bell Helicopter do Brasil.

Marcus Camargo, general sales manager for the new TAM group area, added that, "In a four-month partnership, we have already sold four units and started the project to create a new Bell service center in Sao Paulo."

Eurocopter/Helibras, which is responsible for almost 35 percent of the locally produced fleet, also has a strong partner on sales--L�der Air Taxi, which was for many years the sales arm for Bell. Lider is also the largest offshore operator in Brazil with 27 aircraft. Having assumed sales responsibility for Helibras-Eurocopter new sales in Brazil, Lider is aiming its sales strategy at new executive and corporate customers and at the offshore market for Eurocopter products, said Marcelo Ara�jo Lider, helicopter sales director.

AgustaWestland has also been expanding its sales on the executive market during recent years and investing to consolidate its niche, which is still concentrated in Sao Paulo. "The company's next aims are to introduce their products, mainly the A119 Koala, on EMS and parapublic services and the AB139 in the Brazilian offshore market," said John Arbach, U.S. based regional sales manager.

Sikorsky is also heavily involved in the Brazilian helicopter market, although not as much in the corporate arena. However, it dominates the offshore market with 40 out of the 60 helicopters currently used by Petrobras - State National Oil Company in offshore operations. Petrobras had already started receiving another 20 new units to add to its fleet, most of them S-76Cs, with deliveries scheduled until 2005.

Robinson is represented by Audi Helicopters in Sao Paulo. The Robinson R44 Newscopter dominates the aerial news gathering market in Brazil. Robinson helicopters also have a large slice of the flight training market.

In the parapublic arena, Greater Sao Paulo is patrolled by more than a dozen helicopters, most of them local variations of the Esquilo AS 350B (Ecureuil), produced by Helibras in their plant at the state of Minas Gerais. The Civil Police operates two and Military Police 12 aircrafts. Both forces plan to double their fleets within three to four years, with the first of these expected to be delivered this year.

Following traditional disputes between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to host international events, the only 100 percent helicopter event in the region--Helitech Latin America 2nd edition--has been moved to Rio, which has the second largest concentration of helicopters in Brazil, about 190 aircraft.

The new organizer, Reed Exhibitions, stated that the move was a result of cost reductions for both exhibitors and organizer through consolidation of two events into a single portfolio, in this case joining Helitech with Latin America Aero Defense. This was formerly Latin America Defense and carried out in odd years at Rio Centro. The exhibition will occur from April 25-29, 2005, with Helitech in a separate pavilion inside the main event.

The move to Rio may create an opportunity for a new helicopter event in Sao Paulo in even years. It will probably be in a different shape, but still capable of attracting local buyers and the rest of Sao Paulo `s largest helicopter community, as it remains the country's most dynamic market for executive/air taxi and corporate segments for both rotary and fixed wing aircraft.

The Sao Paulo Helicopter Pilots Assn (Associacao de Pilotos de Helicoptero de Sao Paulo or APHESP) launched two significant projects last May during its third International Flight Safety Seminar. The first was the launch of the Brazilian Helicopter Pilots Assn (Associacao Brasileira de Pilotos de Helicoptero, or ABRAPHE), which has received support from aeronautical authorities and representatives of most of the important helicopter segments. It is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. (Rotorcraft Report, July 2004, page 11.)

With almost 50 percent of Brazil's helicopter fleet still located in Sao Paulo, the new organization's head-office is located at the APHESP premises, although ABRAPHE's medium term plan is to move the association to Campo de Marte Airport, Sao Paulo's main helicopter base--where in 1948 Brazil's first official helicopter flight took place in a Bell 47.

A new helicopter flight control system was put into operation last June, one year after project development between local aeronautical authorities and APHESP. Helicopter flights over the busiest city area and its interaction with fixed-wing aircraft operations at Congonhas airport now have fixed rules, checked and supported by exclusive helicopter flight controllers at the airport's flight control tower.

This control is effective to all entering and departure helicopter traffic from the Executive Quadrilateral Zone that added four new Rota Especial de Helicoptero, or Helicopter Special Routes (corridors) to the 17 existing corridors.

There are about 100 heliports on Congonhas airport's main fixed wing departures and landings route, so this helicopter flight control program has to be precise and effective. The new controls allow helicopter flight controllers to be able to respond faster in order to operate the large number of flights and operations.

Helicopter pilots need authorization from the Heli control center to enter or leave this zone, providing information such as destination and timing. On the airport's landing runway, helicopters are now flying in parallel and in the same direction as fixed-wing traffic. Restrictions at the Quadrilatero are 3,500 ft. altitude and 500 ft. distance between helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

Greater Sao Paulo has at least two "World Class" Helicenters: Helipark and Helicidade, each with its own operational characteristics and serving different types of users. Helicidade, operating since 2002, is now also strategically located along with the external route corridor that surrounds the Executive Quadrilateral Zone, becoming an important support for operations for the system.

"The market is expanding, 50 of our current 80 parking spaces are busy," said Mario Amaral, Helicidade's general manager. "From 1,206 operations (departures and landings) in 2003, our operations forecast for 2004 and 2005 are about 16,000 and 18,000 respectively, ranging from ENG, Air Taxi and executive flights. The strategic position is fundamental, as we are close to this heavy traffic business area, also providing easy access to routes to other cities."

A summary of the views of both owners and operators toward their expectations and concerns for operations in Sao Paulo can be gleaned from a single comment from one versatile owner and operator: Sol Taxi Aero. The company owns an AgustaWestaland A119 Koala, a R22, two R44s, (one of them a newscopter), an EC120 to come, and solid plans to enter in offshore market.

"All of the helicopters operating in Sao Paulo are suitable for this kind of operations; eventual complaints were mostly caused by operational procedures rather than the type of equipment. Maybe even higher flights could be another alternative to suggest at APHESP's first Heli Control System evaluation meeting," said Cmdr Fabio Ribeiro, president of Sol Taxi Aero.

"From our experience of flying, from an R22 to an A119 Koala and daily newscopter ENG operations, and supported by statistics that show there is no relevant risks of flying single engine aircraft, that also means cheaper costs in this kind of environment. Therefore, we might see the increase of small aircraft flying over this area. Fuel costs are regularly our main concern as a main component of most worst-case scenarios, but right now, and probably because of these new regulations, we are facing the reduction of profitable aerial photos flights and the `always expected to grow' sightseeing flight tours. With the constantly increasing number of helicopters and helipads in that area (Sao Paulo Executive Zone), soon we might be facing problems to control such huge number of flights at the same time, in a same area, in a single frequency," he said.

"From the other side, the increasing problems of traffic congestions, safety, increase of executive top office buildings and airport transfers provide attractive and increasing opportunities. Most of the multinationals companies have their country offices located in that area and when you convert the Real (Brazilian currency) costs to U.S. dollar these flights become very attractive."

Sao Paulo's almost unique urban experience may provide information and solutions from simple to extreme situations involving helicopter. There is no question about helicopters being time savers and offering discreet, fast and safe door-to-door versatility while avoiding traffic where a short distance on busy hours can take ages. There is little risk of kidnappings and no parking problems. Leaving the city for multiple daily business visits or taking the family for holidays within a hundred miles or so, without congested highways are other advantages. There is no turning back for helicopters and this city.

The peculiarities of the relationship between the city and its helicopters have attacted the attention of the U.K.'s University of London--Centre for Urban and Community Research. It is developing a project study called "Helicopters and the urban life in Sao Paulo." Apart from detailed commercial and technical aspects of the market, the study will try to understand the development, perception and integration of the use of helicopters in the city as an urban transport standard through economics, socials, political and cultural aspects. The study is scheduled to be ready by the end of this year.

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