Sky-Jet offers chopper commute Father-son airline to begin this year

September 09, 1993|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Staff Writer

Sky-Jet Airlines, an Annapolis-based helicopter service that doesn't own its first chopper, plans to offer scheduled commuter service in the Baltimore-Washington region by the end of the year, according to Gary J. Bierc, company president.

Mr. Bierc, who operates the company with his father, Stanley Bierc, said they would provide short-hop service, with most flights lasting an average of 30 minutes. Ticket prices would range from $70 to $130, Mr. Bierc said.

The father-and-son team will operate the airline from the Annapolis Heliport, which they bought last October as the first step toward their plan of starting a helicopter-based airline.

Last June, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved the company's application to offer commuter helicopter service in the Baltimore-Washington region.

The Biercs plan to ask major airlines to tell their passengers about the service as a commuter connector, Mr. Bierc said.

The Annapolis Heliport, at the Power Technology Center on Defense Highway west of Annapolis, is the first one in the state available for public use.

Only 150 of the roughly 4,500 heliports in the nation are for public use, according to figures from the Heliport Association International in Alexandria, Va.

New York and Vancouver, British Columbia, are the only North American cities that have commuter helicopter businesses, said Roger Carlin, chairman of the association's promotion and development committee.

Both ventures have operated for more than two years, but similar services failed in Boston and Los Angeles, said Mr. Carlin, who works for McDonnell-Douglas Helicopter Co. in Mesa, Ariz.

While lauding Sky-Jet's move, he said the company could be taking a risky financial step. "It's one of those things that's really predicated on the needs of the community where the service is offered to determine its survivability," Mr.Carlin said.

Sky-Jet, which has been leasing a lone five-seater Augusta helicopter, is looking to add four other aircraft, the younger Mr. Bierc said.

The airline plans to house and service the helicopters at a hangar at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in about two months. Passengers will be able to buy tickets there, through travel agents or at the Annapolis Heliport.

The trailer that serves as an office at the heliport, about four miles west of Annapolis on Defense Highway, will be converted into a terminal, Mr. Bierc said.

This is the second helicopter operation on the site. The partnership that owns the center and the landing pad opened a heliport there in May 1991, with hopes of attracting tenants. But it closed within five months because of a high vacancy rate and the expensive upkeep of the heliport.

The younger Mr. Bierc attributes the success he and his father have had so far to focusing on the heliport as a first step in developing a network of heliport landing pads around the region to service helicopter airlines.

Sky-Jet has two such landing pads in the works. One, which will go in the rear parking lot of the Marriott Hotel in Hunt Valley, is expected to be completed by the end of next month. And the company is planning to build a heliport on a mountaintop at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia, Mr. Bierc said.

Sky-Jet would offer "direct to the slope" service, flying skier from metropolitan Washington or Richmond, Va., to the mountaintop heliport, said Mr. Bierc, who planned to fly to Snowshoe yesterday to discuss the plan with officials there.

Mr. Bierc and his father, who relied on fuel sales to keep thei business going when they first opened, are hopeful their airline will take off.

"We're not making money, a year later," the younger Bierc said. "But we aren't losing money hand over fist either. We're just at the point where we're about to start breaking even."

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