Want to escape Sao Paulo’s traffic? Take a flying taxi
Sao Paulo, Brazil - While Uber has changed ground transport in many cities, Sao Paulo’s infernal traffic jams have sparked a new app that opens the sky to commuters: Voom, a helicopter taxi service that charges according to distance and the passenger’s weight.
It’s a godsend for those in a rush - but only if the weather permits.
Gustavo Boyde, a Brazilian living in the United States who goes to Sao Paulo for business, is one of those who says the hops above the city are the only way to get around.
“I’ve opted for helicopters,” he said, pointing to the metropolis sprawling beyond the horizon as he choppered from a chic central district to the airport.
Sao Paulo - South America’s biggest city, home to 12mn residents within its municipal limits and millions more in satellite towns - is regularly choked by gargantuan traffic jams.
There are 5.9mn vehicles, or one for every two people. At peak hour, traffic can be backed up as much as 576km.
Not so pricey
A new venture launched in April by Europe’s Airbus, Voom has taken a page out of Uber’s marketing manual to put clients above it all - at a competitive price.
The app asks passengers to enter their weight and that of any baggage, then immediately sends the calculated fare.
Boyde’s run, from the southeastern neighbourhood of Itaim Bibi to the airport some 30km away, takes nine minutes and costs US$150.
Compare that with the market rates before Voom became avail- able. Individual helicopter companies wanted ten times more - and trips needed to be booked at least two days in advance.
“Our goal is to make helicopter transport accessible to more people, so that the helicopter is seen as an alternative,” said Voom’s executive director, Uma Subramanian.
In Boyde’s case, taking a helicopter through the app was a no-brainer. Using a traditional taxi on the clogged roads would have cost him US$50 and an hour and a half of frustrating stop-and-go.
“I chose Voom because it fits within my travel budget, it’s economical and it’s practical,” Boyde said. “Those are two hours I can now use for work, which is handy given the tight schedule I have,” he said.
According to Subramanian, saturated roads in Latin America mean that ‘people lose up to ten hours a week’ stuck in traffic.
Sao Paulo topped a list of 500 cities Voom considered for its debut, for a variety of reasons. The city, which sits in a state of the same name whose population exceeds 45mn, has the biggest fleet of helicopters in the world.
ANAC, the National Association for Civil Aviation, says 700 choppers, or nearly a third of Brazil’s total number, are located there, alongside 528 helipads.
Brazil’s deep recession also means that many in Sao Paulo’s aviation sector have embraced Voom.
“In the current situation of a contracting market, the arrival of this service is a positive,” said Arthur Fioratti, head of the ABRAPHE association of Brazilian helicopter pilots that covers some 2,000 professional flyers.
Back during Brazil’s boom time, between 2010 and 2013, the sector flourished. ABRAPHE said there were 2,000 helicopter flights a day in Sao Paulo state. Today, there are 1,300.
Voom has deals with three helicopter companies which operate five helicopters in Sao Paulo’s metropolitan zone.
Business travellers are the company’s target clientele - an elite used to taking a lift to the top of a glass-and-steel tower to be picked up on the rooftop helipad. But it hopes to eventually broaden the appeal of flitting across the sky by bringing fares down to below what a taxi would charge.
Brazilian businessman Gustavo Boyde prepares to board a helicopter taxi in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 23