Businessmen from second-hand truck dealers to engineers and farmers use them with one aim in mind — to save precious time.
They are extremely versatile and fast. Managing director of an air compressor company Brian Shekleton roughly calculated that last year he and his service manager saved about 450 executive working hours each last year by using one instead of a car.
And Jimmy Powers of a landscaping firm finds using one and so avoiding speeding fines a definite advantage.
They are talking about helicopters. The use of the machines among South African businessmen has increased considerably over the last 20 years.
“The helicopter used to be a novelty — now it is a very necessary business tool,” says John Pocock, sales manager for Astra, the South African agent for the Bell range of helicopters.
According to the Department of Civil Aviation there are about 175 civil helicopters (as opposed to military ones) in South Africa. Most are used on and around the Reef. There are also about 60 amateur (home-made) helicopters. The main attraction for a helicopter is its versatility and its ability to land almost anywhere.
Seller of second-hand trucks Loekie Vryenhoek finds the latter attribute extremely handy: “When nature calls you can simply land behind a bush. With a fixed wing plane one has a problem.” He has, on one occasion, landed near a roadhouse for a quick bite.
But time is definitely the essence. Owners of Top Turf Jimmy Powers and Dave Kirkby used to drive to their landscaped sites which stretch from Pilanesberg to Witbank, but recently invested in a helicopter.
“Instead of wasting unproductive time on the roads we have the chance to operate with maximum efficiency,” said Mr Powers. And he disagrees that the costs are high. “I got a speeding fine of R150 while on the road. That amounted to three hours of flying time.”
Mr Shekleton of Rand Air Pty Ltd says an advantage is that one flies direct to and lands on the site itself instead of wasting time at airports. And since buying one, communication with his staff and clients has improved from having direct personal contact.
SM Goldstein Ltd has had a Bell Jet Ranger since 1979. Chairman Mr Stanley Goldstein believes it essential but has a limited economic range.
“If it takes more than 1½ hours to reach a destination (that is, more than about 300 km) it is not worthwhile financially,” he said. At R400 an hour expenses mount up.
“Although one cannot see a direct pay off, a helicopter definitely saves money. A deal made because an executive happens to be on site could amount to 10’s of 1,000’s of rands which more than pays the cost of using one.”
Chairman of Keeley Granite Mr Fred Keeley and Leo Baxter, chairman of two computer companies within the holding group, have had a Bell Jet Ranger for about seven years. It has DCA approval to be kept on a plot in Bryanston.
All granite quarrying is done outside Johannesburg in places not within comfortable driving distance. At the sites computerised equipment is also used so the helicopter is used for both types of business.
Casper Badenhorst (financial director) and James Shepherd (chairman) of the Avisa Group of Companies, have a Bell long ranger. Among many of its tasks is transporting teachers to schools in some of the black states to present mathematics laboratories and computer systems.
“The roads are usually poor and flights irregular. By using a helicopter we can land at the schools’ convenient rugby fields.”
And a farm near Bothaville in the Orange Free State runs smoothly with the help of a two
seater Robinson R22 which costs about R50 an hour to run. Barnie Joubert’s 2,500 hectare farm is spread out, but by using a helicopter he finishes farm work more quickly, giving him more time to do the administration.
Brian Preston at Underberg in the Drakensberg used a Robinson R22 to stamp out poaching. Patrolling on foot was difficult because of the terrain, but with the craft the incidents were curbed considerably.
The Bell range of helicopters available in this country are the Jet Ranger, Long Ranger, Bell 222 (costing R2.8 million), B214 and a 15-seater B412 (costing 3,5 million).
Other varieties available are the Robinson R22 (R120,000 new), the BKll7 and BO105 of the Messerschmitt Boelkow Blohm helicopters and the French Aero Spatiles.
The fastest helicopters can fly from 250 km/h to 270 km/h, though the average speeds are more in the region of 190km/h to 220km/h.