When a conflict between subcontractors developed last week at the construction site of a $100 million manufacturing facility for IBM in Austin, Tex., Bill Chaney had to get there in a hurry.
Chaney, president of Chaney Construction Co., knew the drive from his office in Temple, Tex., would take more than an hour and he needed to be in Austin as quickly as possible.
Rather than drive the 60 miles, Chaney hopped into one of his two Bell Helicopter JetRangers and was on the job site in 27 minutes to help iron out the misunderstanding.
While Chaney's flight may seem extravagant to some corporate executives, his trip to Austin illustrates some of the varied uses firms are finding for helicopters. Whether it be to transfer oil workers to off-shore drilling rigs or take an executive from his Washington office to a business lunch in New York, many companies are finding helicopters can save time and money.
The new interest by businesses in time-saving transportation coupled with the development of a new breed of helicopters is paving the way for a boom in helicopter sales.
"This corporate marketplace is going to go off like a bomb," said Harry Shedden, a marketing manager for Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth. "It's just going to explode."
Helicopters, relatively new in the business community, have long had an image of being noisey, troubled by vibrations, uncomfortable and relatively unsafe. But helicopter manufacturers and industry experts say that is all changing.
Already the industry has shown dramatic sales increases. In 1965, 299 corporations and executives were operating a commercial fleet of 401 helicopters in the United States and Canada, according to the Washington-based industry trade group Aerospace Industries Association. By 1978, the number of commercial helicopters sold had reached 1,891.
The development of commercial and corporate market for helicopters has come of age for several reasons.
First, helicopters now beginning to enter the marketplace are powered by twin turbine engines, making the aircraft quieter, smoother and safer. Moreover the new generation requires less maintenance, which translates into lower operating costs.
Secondly, because the cost of operating fixed-wing aircraft has increased as energy prices have escalated, businesses have found helicopters can be used to save money. While helicopters are still more expensive to operate per passenger mile than airplanes, executives find they can save time and money by flying directly from downtown offices or helicopters to outlying manufacturing facilities or airports.
The companies that transport customers and executives are not the only new disciples of helicopters.
The crafts are being used increasingly in logging, inspection of crops and livestock and to transport news crews to breaking stories. As the search for new oil has intensified, a large market has developed for helicopters to take oil workers to off-shore drilling rigs. Several manufacturers are offering specific designs to serve the oil industry. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Bill Perkins - The Washington Post