Temple helicopter flights taking off - for a price

Updated: 2013-01-19 00:52

By Jin Haixing (China Daily)

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Those with money in Beijing have a new travel choice for the Lunar New Year: flying from their homes to temples in Shanxi province by helicopter.

And in the future, point-to-point scheduled helicopter flights will enable passengers to go anywhere within 500 km of the capital.

Temple helicopter flights taking off - for a price

An EC135 helicopter lands in Beijing on Wednesday. A route between Beijing and Wutaishan Mountain in Shanxi province will open before Spring Festival, catering mainly to the needs of rich people. [Cai Daizheng / for China Daily]

The first scheduled helicopter service from Beijing to Wutaishan Mountain in Shanxi province, home to many Buddhist temples, will start operating at Spring Festival, the head of a helicopter company said.

But the journey comes with a hefty price tag, with the fare being charged by the hour at about 40,000 yuan ($6,400) per hour per person, said Yang Guang, a communication manager with Beijing Capital Helicopter Co. The price will rise if customers have extra requirements, Yang said.

Targeted customers are entrepreneurs who need to go to Wutaishan Mountain regularly.

In China, business people believe that offering incense to Buddha at temples will bring them good luck and good fortune.

Xu Lidong, CEO of the helicopter company, said that after Spring Festival, the Beijing-Wutaishan Mountain route, the first of its kind in China, will operate on weekends as well as every first and 15th day of the lunar month.

Wutaishan Mountain was chosen as the first destination because it is a well-known Chinese Buddhism tourism site, but its location is not good because of its high altitude, Xu said.

The venue, about 300 km southwest of Beijing, is home to many monasteries and temples, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

The company has received inquiries about the route from many customers, Xu said, with it usually taking at least seven hours to reach Wutaishan Mountain from Beijing by train.

The flight by helicopter will take one and a half hours, and the journey can start from more than 10 landing points outside Beijing's Third Ring Road and Badaling Airport, according to an engineer at Capital Helicopter Co who gave his name only as Xu.

As long as customers can provide 625 square meters of open land, the company will try to ensure helicopter flights can start from their favored places, Xu said.

Yang said the company has nine helicopters and each can take four to six passengers. It plans to start more helicopter flights to tourism destinations in provinces close to Beijing.

Yang did not give details about these plans but said occasional chartered flights by helicopter to private clubs in nearby provinces started in 2011.

Song Liang, Capital Helicopter's product manager, said that from this year the company is also considering starting similar services from Haikou and Sanya in Hainan province to the islands of Sansha city in the South China Sea.

The market for aircraft ranging from helicopters to single-engine planes to business jets is showing great potential, with airspace regulations being relaxed gradually.

In 2010, China named general aviation as a strategic industry in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15).

As of November, China has 149 general aviation enterprises which have a total of 1,324 such aircraft, and 70 airports for general aviation, Li said.