Kiki Siregar, Jakarta – Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, is notorious for its traffic congestion, which is often cited as one of the worst in the world.
With people typically spending a minimum of two hours on the road, getting to Soekarno-Hatta International airport located on the outskirts of the city can be even more challenging.
This problem is exactly what Mr Denon Prawiraatmadja, CEO of aviation company Whitesky Aviation, tries to tackle by launching a service for people to use his chopper to fly to or from the airport.
"It is more about accessibility, that's the main thing. One of the main benefits of using this helicopter service is access to the airport," said Mr Prawiraatmadja.
With Helicity, customers can fly from the airport to their designated destination in the Greater Jakarta area and vice versa in about 15 minutes between 6am and 6pm daily.
It also caters for people who live in West Java province such as Bandung and Cirebon.
To use the service, one must book at least a day in advance on its app and be willing to pay around 8 million to 20 million rupiah (US$555 to US$1,387), depending on the distance.
The price excludes the departing or landing fee of around 5 million rupiah, thus a ride from Soekarno-Hatta Airport to a suburb in South Jakarta can cost around 30 million rupiah on a Bell 505 helicopter for three passengers.
A ride on Whitesky Aviation's Bell 429, which can accommodate up to six passengers, can cost around 80 million rupiah.
The service is marketed as the first of its kind in Indonesia.
Since its launch in August last year, between two and 10 customers have used the service a month, although at the moment Jakarta's congestion is significantly less severe compared to the days before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Targeting a niche market
"The market segmentation is clear... we are targeting people who need flexibility and speed," said Mr Prawiraatmadja.
He added that helicopters as a mean of transport are not considered luxurious in countries such as the United States and Australia.
But in Indonesia, it comes with a hefty price tag as the spare parts are imported and currency exchange rate has to be taken into consideration.
A wealth report published earlier this month by London-based consultancy Knight Frank revealed that Indonesia is forecasted to outpace China in the growth of its super-wealthy.
Southeast Asia's largest economy is predicted to see a 67 per cent annual increase in people who are becoming very rich until 2025, with the bar set at US$30 million.
Mr Prawiraatmadja told CNA some of their patrons are people who are health conscious and would rather use private than public transport to protect them from contracting COVID-19.
"There are some who are like that. There are passengers who feel secure riding a helicopter," the CEO told CNA.
Prior to COVID-19, Soekarno-Hatta Airport received around 60 million passengers a year. As the helicopter taxi service depends largely on the passenger volume, Mr Prawiraatmadja is optimistic there is still room for growth for his business.
In the future, Helicity aims to provide a more luxurious experience to its passengers, such as a direct access from the airport runway to Helicity's chopper.
"Gradually, we will develop facilities to transport people directly to the plane. For example, a limousine will directly transport a passenger from the plane to the helicopter," said Mr Prawiraatmadja.
Chopper service will not solve traffic woes: Urban planner
Jakarta-based transport analyst Darmaningtyas, who goes by one name, said a helicopter taxi service is an inevitability that cannot be avoided.
"It is quick, no gridlock, so it's clearly needed. There is a market for this. If it can survive for a year, that's a sign that there is a market," said Mr Darmaningtyas, who works at Instran, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that focuses on transport issues.
He noted that at the moment the service is not exactly needed as COVID-19 has forced many to stay at home, resulting in better traffic.
However, he said that once life returns to normal, the gridlock will be back to such a degree that a helicopter service will be in higher demand.
Urban planner Nirwono Yoga concurred that a helicopter taxi is needed for Jakarta and its surrounding areas, especially during rush hours in the morning and late afternoon. But he said it is not the solution to the traffic problem.
"Because the consumers are only from the upper-class, which is limited in numbers, so it won't significantly reduce the numbers of vehicles, especially motorcycles which cause congestion," Mr Yoga told CNA.
"To reduce the traffic jams, the key is in rearranging the city layout and settlements as well as integration of mass transportation networks." (CNA/ks)