Father and son hope timing is right for opening heliport in Annapolis Business targets corporate commuters

November 22, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

An Annapolis father-and-son team is betting heavily that helicopters will revolutionize corporate commuter travel in the Baltimore-Washington area over the next decade as business executives and pleasure seekers demand faster trips with fewer hassles.

Stanley J. Bierc and his son, Gary J. Bierc, are wagering so heavily, in fact, that they have formed Stanley Aviation Inc. to operate Annapolis Heliport -- the first in the state available to the public -- on a site where an earlier heliport failed.

On Defense Highway

The Biercs opened the heliport last month at the Power Technology Center on Defense Highway, just west of Annapolis.

The partnership that owns the building and landing pad, Power Technology Center Limited Partnership, opened a heliport there in May 1991 to attract tenants, but closed it after five months when leasing deals fell through and heliport upkeep became too costly.

The heliport was forced to close before it ever had a chance to take off, Gary Bierc said.

"The developer here showed a lot of vision," he said. "But right when he came in with a great idea, the real estate market fell apart and the building sat empty."

The Biercs, however, believe they are jumping into the business at the right time, Gary Bierc said. "We're coming out of a recession. People care about efficient travel. Helicopters are the most efficient travel, and they're safe," he said.

The building now is 70 percent occupied, said Jeff Pollak, director of leasing for Ronald Cohen Investments, owner of the limited partnership. He expects to fill the space by February.

The Biercs envision a day of 30-passenger helicopter shuttles, an extensive network of heliports and helicopter-based airlines that will deposit a traveler at his destination's doorstep.

They talk about eventually offering scheduled flights to Washington, Baltimore, beaches and ski resorts, Atlantic City -- even Broadway shows.

"It's a much faster way to get there," Mr. Bierc said, adding that helicopters are more versatile than jets because they don't need long landing strips.

"If you flew to New York to a show, it would be the same as driving to the District of Columbia," he said.

But it will be years before such travel becomes more common and less costly, they concede.

Counting on corporations

For now, the partners are counting on corporations charterin helicopters or using their own to get to meetings in a fraction of the time it would take to drive to the conference or to an airport and wait for a flight.

Already, the National Guard, a private developer and a Marylan State Police MedEvac unit have used the heliport. And Gary Bierc said he expects landings of the occasional private aircraft -- one man flew from New Hampshire to attend an Annapolis boat show -- as well as corporate and government helicopters.

The partners and Frank DeBoard, a pilot and Stanley's directo of aviation services, also have worked out deals with several local charter companies. Stanley will act as broker to arrange charter flights, hotel accommodations and ground transportation.

The company owns no aircraft. But it offers ground facilities 24 hours a day, a landing pad, radio communication, a lighting system pilots can control, parking, fuel and limited maintenance.

Stanley, which charges landing fees, will depend heavily on fuel sales to pay rent and to make a profit. Gary Bierc also hopes to win fuel contracts with the military so Army and Navy training helicopters could land at the facility, he said.

Although the costs of chartering a helicopter are similar to thosof a corporate jet -- about $1,100 to $1,600 an hour -- Mr. Bierc said he is certain the convenience and time saved will mean long-term savings.

"To the executive, time is money," he said. "This is not cheap, but it's efficient and fast. A helicopter can take you right to Wall Street."

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