Offering a six-minute ride from London Biggin Hill into the heart of the city, the London HeliShuttle has expanded with the addition of a new AW109 Grand helicopter
Launched little more than two years ago, Biggin Hill’s London HeliShuttle recently expanded with the addition of a new Leonardo AW109 Grand, bringing its available fleet up to six aircraft. A fixed fee of £2,300 (plus VAT) secures the six-minute helicopter transfer from Biggin to Battersea’s London Heliport and includes onward chauffeured car service to any destination within the M25. There’s at least 40 minutes and, given the realities of London traffic, potentially considerably more time to be saved compared to even a relatively trouble-free drive into London.
Andy Patsalides, London Biggin Hill’s Marketing Manager, admits: “I’m really amazed at how many flights we’re doing – five or six a day in some cases. I was originally a little sceptical, but of course, what people are buying is time.
“In most cases people book their helicopter at the same time as they book their flight into or out of Biggin Hill. Bookings direct through the London HeliShuttle website and via Castle Air, which operates the service for us, are exceptions.
“But we’ve had several cases where customers have learned of traffic or weather issues affecting the drive into London when they’re just 25 or 30 minutes out and requested a helicopter. We have the aircraft and crews here and we’ve always managed to have the helicopter waiting in position ready for them. So it’s also an on-demand service; the key point is that the helicopters and pilots are already at Biggin Hill. It makes for a really resilient product and with six dedicated helicopters, people are confident they’ll be able to get one.”
Most flights are into Battersea, but Falcon London Heliport (previously Vanguard), convenient for the City, Canary Wharf, O2 and Excel, is a standard alternative. “Most people want to go to Battersea, but if they want to go to a private site we can do that too. Importantly, because we include the car service from London Heliport, the operator always knows where the principal is, it’s always under Biggin’s control.” Essentially, the jet arrives, the door opens, there are passport and other formalities to clear and then it’s less than a 10-metre walk to the open door of the waiting AW109 helicopter and swiftly on to London.
With six AW109s available the London HeliShuttle offers guaranteed capacity, especially with the return trip to Battersea taking so little time. “It’s rare for me to see more than two or three tail numbers operating in a day, because they come back quickly, ready to take the next passengers.” On the other hand, should a customer want to fly further afield, taking a helicopter away from Biggin for an extended period, the new Grand provides additional cover.
“We recently had a customer land and then decided they’d like a helicopter to take them to their factory. It’s impossible to bring the helicopter and crew into action immediately, so you just have to be straight with people and explain the situation. But it was ready in 15 minutes and they still made a massive time saving compared to driving.”
Castle Air, operating the HeliShuttle on Biggin’s behalf, employs the AW109 as its aircraft of choice, since it’s a major distributor and maintainer of Leonardo’s helicopter range. Its presence at Biggin Hill also enables the airfield to offer the larger Sikorsky S-76, however, while access to the off-airport Starspeed fleet opens up the possibility of accessing a variety of Airbus Helicopters, Bell and further Sikorsky machines. “But virtually all our flights are with the AW109. It’s a very stylish, Italian helicopter…”
Patsalides describes HeliShuttle as a game changer, noting its popularity with US customers as evidence for his lofty claim. “We were recently at a couple of shows in the US and we realised just how much the service is valued. Our American friends know how easy it is to transfer from Biggin into London. In fact the service is so valued, the fee no longer seems important, it’s the six minutes into Battersea that people look at. They do it once and they’re hooked.”
The same fee applies whether the helicopter takes one or a maximum of six passengers, “… but it’s a very rare day that we have six people in it. It’s really comfortable with up to four, but usually it’s just one or two people and passengers love it. The crew always offer headsets even though the cabin’s quiet, but by the time you’ve taken off and looked out of the window you’re in London, so there’s not really time for a productive conversation!
“I think we’ll see further expansion next year, perhaps with the AW169 or AW139 if that’s too big, although I don’t see the fleet growing in number. It’s all about looking ahead, offering something new and not resting on our laurels.”