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Why chopper safaris are becoming popular

Peter Kenneth disembarks from a Bell 407 helicopter: People are increasingly hiring the planes for personal purposes. PHOTO | FILE
Peter Kenneth disembarks from a Bell 407 helicopter: People are increasingly hiring the planes for personal purposes. PHOTO | FILE 

In their brochure, Air Kenya dismisses the belief that flying in a helicopter is the preserve of the rich and famous, at least now that riding in one has become more affordable than before.

This is also made possible due to the number of helicopters roaming our skies and the push for domestic tourism that has opened up these possibilities to those wishing to view wildlife from the air.

With this, most helicopter companies have introduced morning and day scenic flight safaris that cater to individuals and corporates who need some time away from the city.

Cost

These excursions which take three to four hours are visits to specific areas of the country with one having the choice to have their own safari tailored to their specification or sharing with others.

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“Air Kenya has three of these safaris that traverse different parts of the country following scenic routes which one can enjoy with family and friends,” says Una Gertrude Odhiambo, operations manager at Air Kenya.

Although cost has been one of the factors that has seen most people prefer tour van safaris, helicopter safaris although more expensive, offer access to places where a fixed wing airplane or van can’t penetrate.

Sarah Snell of Air Kenya Helicopter Services says the price has increased at a rate comparable to the general inflation as seen across the market.  

In 2013, hiring a helicopter for a group of five people would cost between Sh190,000 and Sh261,000 per hour depending on the distance covered, now the same costs between Sh220,000 and Sh687,500 per hour.

However, when it comes to time, these excursions take longer periods with one flight hour in a scenic location and two hours of dining in the bush all of which are included in the total cost.

Some of the scenic locations frequented by Air Kenya are Lake Magadi, Naivasha and areas in the south of the Rift Valley which provide spectacular views of the mountains and ranges as well as some wild animals.

Destinations

“Popular are the high mountain landing spots on the Nguruman Escarpment, aboutv 120 miles southwest of Nairobi towards the Tanzanian border where the Shompole Conservancy is found, the Aberdares, Mt Kenya; The remote desert volcanic rock formations of Northern Kenya, Turkana, Suguta Valley; Rocky island hideaway spots on the coast; exclusive country club, safari lodge, and city destinations where we drop clients literally at their doorstep or function to avoid passing through a busy airport and traffic jams,” says Ms Snell.

Due to time constraints, most people are not able to take days off or even a week for road trip safaris, but a helicopter ride will give you a few hours in the sky for those moments in the wild.

It takes just a call to book and upfront payment, one can charter a helicopter to any destination of their choice.

A three-hour excursion to Naivasha via the Great Rift Valley where one gets a chance to enjoy lots of woldlife, Lake Magadi flamingoes, Suswa crater and Hell’s Gate with a one-hour game drive at Kongoni Game Valley where they serve a bush breakfast or brunch would cost you Sh93,500 per person.

Most charter companies leave it to their clients to suggest tailor-made safaris which they are always ready to organize. The only requirement is that you must be in a group of 5 people for every trip.

Most will remember that advert showing the versatility of chartering a helicopter where a man who is working on a construction site in one country, later he attends a corporate function in another country and finally joins his family down at the coast, all his travels seem effortless as he uses a chopper to traverse these places.

The advert is a reflection of what how CEOs and business men juggle travel in their busy work schedules, especially where they need to be in a meeting in different venues but need to beat the traffic.

Special occasions

Those who want to go for tour rides to the top Mt Kenya only have to call for a helicopter.

Imagine taking an early morning helicopter ride from Nairobi to the top of the mountain for trout fishing and coming back to the city later in the day.

“Kenyans are now hiring the chopper for personal rather than official purposes especially for special occasions such as engagements and birthdays. With several companies offering chopper hire services, it has become affordable for many people to travel in this way,” said Captain Emmanuel Wendot of ALS Helicopter Services during an earlier interview.

Since helicopters can literally land anywhere despite the terrain, it is now possible to fly to any part of the country for sightseeing and leisure. They provide access to remote locations in the country that would otherwise be impossible to get to, such as mountains and deserted islands and venues.

Lady Lori Kenya Limited, one of the major players in helicopter charters says the demand for helicopter services continues to rise, as is evident from the number of chopper companies that are today available in the country.

There are about 20 air charter companies providing helicopter services in the country, with over 100 choppers all together.

“Taking a charter plane or helicopter ride has become a popular means of travelling as more people are realising the versatility of the helicopter when it comes to accessing some of the more far flung reaches of the country,” says one of the charter companies’ operations manager.

Whether it is to view the city’s landmarks or viewing wildlife in the parks, or even going over Mt Kilimanjaro on a sunny day, nothing comes close to the breathtaking sight from up in the air.

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