Superyachts and the (very) high life
Increasing numbers of superyachts are equipped with helipads and helicopters, ensuring adventurous guests can go the extra mile.
Intrepid superyacht owners are on the rise. While the Mediterranean and the Caribbean are still popular hotspots for the sailing crowd, a growing number are keen to push on towards unchartered territory. For that, they need all the latest kit – from the expedition boats to the toys. One such toy is the hardy helicopter – allowing speedy access to even the most remote corners of the world. Many boats today have helipads on board, and some, like Feadship’s Vanish, even have two.
“Some clients, like the ones at Cookson Adventures [a company which crafts adventures for superyacht owners], want to exploit helicopters to their maximum potential, getting access to places they can’t otherwise,” says Jonathan Mutch, an experienced superyacht helicopter pilot. “It’s great to share in the client’s enthusiasm, to involve them in the briefings or discussions about accessing a volcano or getting up to glaciers in Alaska.”
Indeed, the places these helicopters can reach are unparalleled. In Antarctica, where better to get a grasp on your otherworldly surroundings than from the air? Look down on thousands of penguins crowding onto an iceberg, peer at pods of humpback whales and admire towering glaciers as you hover in the sky above. Meanwhile, heliskiing is taking off with a vengeance among the superyachting crowd. Greenland is one of the top spots, where guests are dropped off on some of the most inaccessible slopes the world over, before being collected and deposited back onto the comfortable surroundings of their yacht. There’s far more besides; from overhead cityscape views across shimmering skylines, to wild forests and waterfalls in New Zealand and breathtaking fjord landscapes in Norway.
Of course, with trips of this nature, choosing the right helicopter is paramount. Leonardo, Sikorsky and Robinson are all popular options, as is the Airbus ACH145, which will be used on the upcoming research and expedition yacht REV. “It is the most compact and light eight-seater available on the market, with the best performance and reliability in its class, says Frederic Lemos, CEO of Airbus Corporate Helicopters. “It is great for optimising yacht space but also for landing in confined areas.”
Making sure the helicopter blends seamlessly with your yacht is another consideration, and one that Airbus takes seriously. “We are often requested to work in collaboration with the yacht designer to match the superyacht’s interior style and atmosphere,” says Lemos. “Designing and crafting beautiful products is a strong value at Airbus and we have been working for years with superyacht designers such as Harrison Eidsgaard to exceed customers’ expectations.” The firm’s VIP edition, designed in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz even includes a wooden floor, in keeping with the look and feel of many superyachts.
Of course, even on the biggest yachts, a helipad takes up substantial space – and for that reason, many have a second use. Take Dream or Kismet, where the pads double as basketball courts, or Alfa Nero, where the bottom of the yacht’s swimming pool rises up to transform to a helideck when needed. And for many, the helidecks will be needed frequently.
Whilst adventurous owners may solely want to use their helicopters to reach the farthest corners of the earth, there are others who use it as an often-used time-saving device. Jonathan Mutch, who has served as a superyacht pilot on the same boat for over a decade has one such client. “If he gets out of the helicopter and he’s still on his iPhone then I know I’ve done a good job,” he says. “I certainly don’t need to be doing anything flamboyant or daring with the aircraft. It’s about being safe and efficient.”
For time-poor owners, those efficiencies are remarkable. Mutch reports flying from the helipad in Manhattan to Newark airport in just seven minutes, while most travellers are still waiting for their Uber to arrive. Meanwhile, the Nice to Monaco trip is also around seven minutes, with the added bonus of sweeping views over the glittering Med and the distinctive Monaco skyline. Even when time-saving is the main motivation, there is still the additional joy that comes from soaring high above a city.
“In all the flying I’ve ever done, one of the most memorable flights I’ve ever done was a night flight out of Manhattan,” recalls Mutch. “The city was all lit up – and I caught in my peripheral vision everyone in the back with their noses pressed up against the windows. It was absolutely spectacular.”