When you're rich, it's easy to rise above the mass of air passengers. Businessmen, monarchs and pop stars fly first class or charter their own airplane. And where a private jet can't land, helicopters come to the rescue.
In Munich, for example, VIPs can now use a specialist heli-service to reach glitzy ski resorts in the Austrian Alps.
Since the beginning of the year, Helicopter Travel Munich has been operating a service with German airline Lufthansa and the VIP service at Munich Airport to fly moneyed ski tourists directly to their luxury chalets in Kitzbühel or Lech.
The business is growing because the drive along the A9 autobahn from Munich in the direction of Salzburg is not particularly pleasant on skiing weekends. The journey to Kitzbühel can take three hours by car. A helicopter requires twenty minutes.
HTM boss Hans-Jürgen Ostler is used to handling VIPs. He has flown singer Elton John and Prince Albert of Monaco to Austrian resorts, and German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer used the company's helicopters for a tour of stadiums during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. BMW bosses Eberhard von Kuenheim and Wolfgang Reitzle also use his air taxi service.
Mr. Ostler reports that some clients even book a second pilot out of fear that the first could become incapacitated.
Clients can be demanding. Although Mr. Ostler enjoys something close to a friendship with an ultra-rich client from the British hotel sector, customers from Russia or Ukraine, on the other hand, can be a little colder. “They don't offer a handshake, climb on board without a word, get off at the destination, and we inform the respective secretary that we have delivered the passenger,” he said.
The cost of a flight is between €2,500 ($2,730) and €5,000, depending on the number of passengers. HTM has been flying an average of five VIP skiers per month this winter.
That figure is expected to increase as a result of current global political and economic circumstances. Even though the number of Russians has declined in the past few months, more and more rich Asians have been discovering the Alps. “We receive many inquiries from Japan, for instance,” Mr. Ostler said.
Mr. Ostler reports that some clients even book a second pilot out of fear that the first could become incapacitated. On short flights, he charges €350 for the extra service.
The ski-flight business is limited but lucrative. Pilots earn monthly salaries of between €5,000 and €6,000, as well as pocketing the occasional substantial tip.
HTM is one of the largest providers of helicopter services in Germany. The firm offers a wide range of services including sightseeing flights. Founded in 1997, it operates 25 helicopters and four small jets at six locations.
The company has 80 employees, 30 of whom are pilots. HTM has grown rapidly in recent years, driven by its service to offshore wind-power farms, which account for about half of revenues. Another 25 percent comes from film productions.
However, Mr. Ostler’s company faces stiff competition. In Munich, for example, the firm Heliflieger also offers sightseeing flights. But HTM believes that its ski service and collaboration with Lufthansa mark it out from the crowd. And in any case, the alpine flights are more a marketing instrument than a revenue generator, said Mr. Ostler.
But not everyone is enthusiastic about transferring to ski resorts by helicopter. “The fuel consumption is immense,” contends the alpine association in Upper Bavaria. A similar attitude exists in Austria.
Susanne Stephan is a freelance writer for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]