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Norwood Helicopter companies adapting to stay in the air
From Wicked Local

Pilots say there are far fewer helicopters in the sky today than there were even 10 years ago, due to rising operating costs and the weak economy. Still, there are two commercial helicopter companies left at Norwood Airport who are working hard and diversifying to keep their commercial helicopter companies aloft.

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Christopher R. Donovan, president of Boston Executive Helicopters, says he has been flying helicopters around Boston for 27 years and attests to the sharp decline in helicopter aviation.

“Boston used to have a lot of helicopters,” said Donovan. “We used to have two public helipads in Boston, the South Boston helipad and the Nashua Street Helipad. Now there are none. Even Providence has a helipad.”

“General aviation is dying because of the economy,” Donovan says. “People that used to fly recreationally are gone. It’s sad, actually.”

Johann Sweitzer, a flight instructor for Blue Hills Helicopters, also headquartered at Norwood Airport, notes the decline though he still teaches and says he flies three or four hours a day, weather permitting.

Blue Hills Helicopters’ offers tours, but Sweitzer says that their main business is helicopter pilot instruction, and given today’s fuel prices, that’s expensive for a hobbyist.

Helicopter fuel costs about $6.50 per gallon, which is “close to $100/hour just to keep the fuel in the tanks,” while flying a Blue Hills helicopter according to Sweitzer. Fuel, insurance, and instructor time add up quickly, for people who want to learn to fly a helicopter.

Earning “a private license is probably going to set you back in the neighborhood of $15,000,” says Sweitzer. “The FAA minimum is 35 hours of instruction, but most people do it in 45-50 hours at $354 per hour.”

Sweitzer says,“ A new, entry-level four-seat helicopter like a Robinson R44, that’ll set you back $400,000-500,000.”

Donovan says his firm in March bought a new twin-engine turbine helicopter that “is a little closer to $3 million.” Twin engine helicopters provide redundancy in the engines, which Donovan says that some celebrities and other VIP’s require for their insurance.

With prices that high, it’s easy to see why more people and small businesses can’t afford them.

Jet fuel, which is what larger, turbine helicopters like Boston Executive Helicopters use, can burn 50 gallons of fuel per hour, according to Donovan. Both pilots agree that rising fuel and insurance costs are driving all but the wealthiest people and businesses out of the helicopter market.

Read the full article:

January 3, 2012, 12:40 AM from

Moshe Yanai, data-storage entrepreneur and aircraft owner-pilot, is seeing the fruits of his labor to establish two widely dispersed on-demand, air-taxi operations: Tel Aviv Executive Helicopters in Israel and Boston Executive Helicopters in Norwood, Mass.

The company operates an Aerospatiale AStar and TwinStar in Israel, and an AStar at Norwood Memorial Airport serving the U.S. Northeast. A TwinStar is scheduled to join the U.S. business soon.

Yanai, who has businesses and homes in the U.S. and Israel, said he saw a need for on-demand helicopter services to “cater specifically to executives” in the northeast U.S. and in Israel. With this vision mind, he formed the two companies in March last year under a plan to simultaneously obtain both FAA and Israeli CAA air-taxi certifications.

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Boston Executive Helicopters chief pilot Christopher Donovan flies the company’s Eurocopter AS350 AStar. The operation expects to take delivery of two TwinStars this year.

The process turned out to take much longer than anticipated, and surprisingly the Israeli approvals were awarded several months before the U.S. approvals. Furthermore, this earlier approval was accomplished despite the fact that at the time the applications were submitted to the CAA there was only one TwinStar and no AStars operating in Israel.

Tel Aviv Executive Helicopters starting commercial flying last October, but Boston Executive Helicopter trips didn’t get under way until this past summer. Operations in both countries are approved for day/night VFR only. Gen. Boaz Peleg (Israeli air force, retired) is in charge of the Israeli service and Christopher Donovan, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, is chief pilot for the U.S. operation.

There are “very limited Part 135-like charter operations in Israel,” Donovan told AIN. “So we had to work with the Israel CAA to obtain both type certification as well as air-taxi approval for the AStar.”

The Israeli and the U.S. rotorcraft, purchased used, were updated and outfitted to executive interiors at Oxford Aviation in Maine. Avionics and power-train modifications were made to upgrade the AStars to AS350BA standards. Systems enhancements included air conditioning, radar altimeters, a terrain database for obstacle avoidance and a sand filter (for the Israeli aircraft). In addition, the helicopters were repainted to the company’s designated design.

Port City Air, a part of New Hampshire Helicopters of Portsmouth, N.H., will provide Part 135 maintenance for the U.S. operation. “After more aircraft are added, we will probably hire in-house mechanics,” Donavan said. “We hired a mechanic in Israel and sent him to American Eurocopter and Turbomeca maintenance schools with the objective for him to be U.S. and Israeli certified and a full-time mechanic for the Israel operation.”

With the air-taxi operations finally under way in both countries, Yanai is turning his interests to expanding the Norwood facilities. Donovan said there are plans for a “full-service FBO” with the purchase of an existing hangar and construction of a new hangar on the north end of the airport. “We will offer hangar space for transient parking and tenant leases,” he told AIN.

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