Annapolis may be known for its sailboats, but managers of a newly opened heliport want business and pleasure travelers to know there's another way in and out of the city.
The state's first public-use heliport officially opened yesterday at the Power Technology Center, a new office building set high on a hill along Defense Highway, about one mile west of Annapolis Mall.
Travelers can charter helicopters anywhere on the East Coast or rent space to park their own choppers, said General Manager Ralph P. Petragnani, who came up with the idea for the facility.
Officials of the state, county and aviation industry, as well asdevelopers and potential tenants of the technology center, gathered last night to mark the start of the new service, hailed as a historic step toward addressing regional transportation needs.
Bruce Mundie of the MarylandAviation Administration presented the state's first public heliport license to William R. Anderson Jr., one of two partners who developedthe center.
Of 4,500 heliports in the nation, just 150 are designated for public use, said Frank Jensen, executive director of the Helicopter Association International.
"If we're going to address the economic demands of the 21st century, we have to take action today," Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg told the crowd. "Unless we have public heliports in convenient locations, you're not going to get new, dynamic corporations moving to the state."
Eventually, Petragnani hopes to find a company that will run a commuter service out of the heliport, with its 75-foot circular landing pad, parking area, 5,000-gallon fuel truck and administrative offices.
Such a service could get commuters to Washington or New York, Petragnani said. He envisions running from six to 10 flights a day, at a rate of one every hour or 1 1/2 hours.
Several companies have expressed interest in starting a service, although none have committed to one yet, Petragnani said. One, which runs a courier service, would like to team up with a commuterbusiness and ship packages by air, he said.
So far, the $400,000 heliport has been the site of about two landings or takeoffs each day. Some pilots stop to refuel, after radioing ahead when they get within 10 miles of the landing pad. One group of fliers parked at the heliport, then ate brunch in Annapolis. But most travelers have been business people flown by their companies, Petragnani said.
"It's moreconvenient for them to come here than an airport," he said.
Petragnani said helicopter flights from Annapolis could save travelers time they'd spend driving to airports or waiting in airport terminals.
Passengers could fly from Annapolis to Dulles International Airportin 25 minutes, to Philadelphia in 50 minutes, to Wall Street in one hour and 15 minutes and to Atlantic City in one hour.
Once they land in Annapolis, passengers can catch taxis, rent cars or find hotel accommodations from the heliport.
Eventually, Petragnani would like to start a weekend Annapolis-to-Ocean City run, a 25-minute flight that would cost about $100 each way. On-demand charters, which can hold up to six people, cost about $600 an hour, but a scheduled servicewould cost considerably less.
Especially unusual is the heliport's connection to the office center, whose developers, Power TechnologyLimited Partnership, built the extra service, Petragnani said. A 60-by-60-foot hangar will be finished by the end of the year.
The 70,000-square-foot business center is 20 percent leased, to a marketing company and a software development company.