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Copter service aims for executives too busy for drive to the airport


Move over USAir, Delta and TWA. Sky-Jet Airlines, which flies helicopters but doesn't even own its first chopper yet, wants a piece of the sky.

Sky-Jet, a division of Stanley Aviation Inc., already has taken the first step in securing Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation approvals to begin offering scheduled service between local heliports and major airports by mid-summer.

Officials at Stanley, operator of the Annapolis Heliport, say Sky-Jet is aiming for business executives who want to cut airport commuting time to minutes, avoid traffic and parking hassles, save time at the office and who are willing to spend $50 to $150 for a ticket to ride.

"We hope to get those business people who are at the level where their time is critical, their schedules are managed down to the minute," says Gary J. Bierc, Stanley president.

Mr. Bierc and his father, company Chairman Stanley Bierc, opened the heliport -- the first in the state available to the public -- last year at the Power Technology Center on Defense Highway, west of Annapolis.

For the father-and-son team, the heliport was the first piece in their grand vision of revolutionizing corporate commuter travel in the Baltimore-Washington region.

Since opening, the heliport has offered ground facilities 24 hours a day, a landing pad, radio communication, a lighting system pilots can control, parking, fuel, and limited maintenance to military and private helicopter pilots.

And the company is looking into developing a network of similar landing pads around the Baltimore and Washington beltways. One will likely be opened in a commercial-industrial area of Baltimore County, Mr. Bierc said.

Last month, the FAA granted Stanley an air carrier certificate that allowed it to form Sky-Jet, keep a helicopter on site and offer chartered service.

The airline leases its lone helicopter from Agusta Aerospace Corp. -- a five-seater stocked with a stereo and a telephone. Already it has signed up the president of a New Jersey steel plant to fly to visit plants and clients.

With scheduled service, a busy executive could travel from Annapolis to Washington Dulles International Airport in 20 minutes for about $125, or to Baltimore-Washington International Airport in about four minutes for about $50.

"The most important thing to that executive is time, quality time in his office," said Savas G. Comsudis, marketing director. "He can spend up to an hour and a half more time in his office and still make an international flight."

Mr. Bierc and his father discovered the Annapolis heliport site while developing plans for their airline. The partnership that owned the office building and landing pad had opened a heliport there in May 1991 to attract tenants, but closed it after five months when leasing deals fell through and the upkeep became too costly. The office building now is almost completely leased.

Stanley Aviation officials, who have been relying on fuel sales and contracts, believe that they will succeed by developing the commuter service in conjunction with a network of landing sites to support it.

Mr. Bierc envisions a day when the airline will expand to fly passengers from Annapolis to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, even ocean or ski resorts.

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