Chopping Through Gridlock

From New York’s Gotham Air to Camarillo-based Studio Wings, the helicopter commute is a time saver for business and leisure


When Travis Kalanick launched Uber in March 2009, it was only a matter of time before other entrepreneurs took his lead and applied the app-based, on-demand service concept to their respective industries. Today it’s possible to procure everything from custom tailoring services (see pg. 26) to dog-walking services with the download of the appropriate app.

In January 2015, New York City startup Gotham Air swooped into the mix, providing on-demand helicopter rides in and out of the city to and from JFK and Newark. Gotham Air CEO Tim Hayes, a music and entertainment industry executive, wanted to “bring those luxuries [private helicopter rides as a time-saving method] to the masses.” In little more than half a year, the company has grown and diversified rapidly enough that it now offers chartered rides to and from the Hamptons throughout the summer. All of Gotham’s flights are FAA certified and DOT registered, easing passengers’ minds. Hayes, a frequent flyer himself, will often hop on a chopper with paying customers “because I get such a kick out of it.”


Then there’s Los Angeles. Notorious for its never-ending array of freeway traffic snarls, a service such as Gotham could help. However, many factors arise when considering this type of service in Southern California. “We are not like New York,” states Steve Stafford, owner of Studio Wings, a Camarillo-based helicopter charter company that serves the entertainment industry as well as clients in the greater LA region. “There are a lot of airports that you can fly private jets into within the Los Angeles area.” Founded in 1993, Studio Wings’ copters are utilized in TV and film projects in the region, including Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, Scandal, and Ray Donovan.

“If you look at LAX as the hub, there are about 25 airports within 25 miles of LAX where you can land, even where a medium-sized jet can fit … and it doesn’t make as much sense to charter a helicopter.” Another factor is the noise; there is a lot of filming being done in Los Angeles, and the infiltration of choppers passing by overhead would encounter much resistance. Finally, today there are just 10 helipads in the LA area that are designated for public use, and it’s not likely more will be created anytime soon. In late 2014, Mayor Eric Garcetti struck down helipad legislation from 1974, which had mandated that every building taller than 75 feet be constructed with a flat roof to allow for helicopter landings.

While Stafford and his team use the majority of their fleet for Hollywood projects, they do offer time-saving and dynamic-view trips for the efficiency-minded sports fan. Says Stafford: “If you want to get to Dodger Stadium, you can take off out of Santa Monica or Van Nuys, or even Camarillo. It takes about 19 minutes to get there from Camarillo on a typical afternoon, and with rush hour traffic you are looking at two hours by car if you are lucky.”

If you really want to get to a game or concert chop-chop, make a beeline above the gridlock and touch down in style.