Technology

Uber for Helicopters: Chopper Launches in South Florida

It’s not easy to book a helicopter flight. You can’t hail one off the street like a taxi. You can’t catch one at a certain time or place like the bus. You certainly can’t purchase a flight on Orbitz.  Until recently, an interested flier in South Florida would have to look up one of the many brokers online, call an operator, and email back and forth securing the helicopter, time, and pickup and drop-off locations.

Michael Blackton has worked in helicopter aviation in Florida for the last five years. He figured there had to be a way to streamline the process, so he spent the last three years creating Chopper, a web-based app that allows users to book helicopter flights anywhere in South Florida — as long as there is proper landing space and Chopper has the landowner’s permission. The service launched in Palm Beach county last week and will expand across Florida by July. It works like Uber, a car-hailing company that doesn’t own vehicles but manages logistics and payment. Chopper is much more expensive, though: rides cost anywhere from $1,100 to $4,500.

“A one-hour drive is 15 minutes in a helicopter,” Blackton tells New Times. “It’s worth it for doctors, lawyers, and corporate guys who bill their time by the hour.”

Blackton points out it’s also perfect for special occasions like anniversaries, bachelorette parties, and birthdays. The company’s soft opening was two months ago, and it launched officially in Palm Beach on June 1. Although Blackton is from Orlando, he imagined South Florida as the most ideal market for these new, glitzy helicopter rides.


“You don’t spend $5,000 for bottles at the club in Orlando,” Blackton jokes. “In South Florida, it’s an everyday occurrence, and flying in a helicopter would make the ultimate entrance.”

The process is simple enough. Go online to flychopper.com, select a departure and arrival location, the helicopter type, and the number of people traveling. Then, choose the date and time and enter passenger details (with a note that the average weight of each guest traveling “must not exceed 220 lbs”). Enter the payment information, receive a confirmation email, and you’re all set.

The ultimate goal is to turn any place with enough space into a potential pickup location. But right now on the app, users are limited to specific departure and arrival locations, like BB&T Center, Doral Country Club, Downtown Fort Lauderdale Helistop, Ritz Carlton Jupiter, and Waldorf Astoria Orlando, as well as airports across the state including Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport, Tampa International Airport, and Winter Haven Airport.

Blackton says that the service is safe. He spent almost three years securing the necessary permits and licenses. The helicopters are owned privately, mostly by charter companies. Chopper is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. At each stop, there is a helicopter on standby.

A similar service called Blade is offered in New York and transports people to and from New York City and the Hamptons.

In July, Blackton hopes to expand to Wyoming, Colorado, and Georgia and to California by August.

“The feedback so far has been awesome,” Blackton says. “We hope to keep going with it and expand across the country.” 
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson