A new $2.5 million Auckland helicopter hangar is meeting sky-high demand for VIP private services with owners citing six reasons for the trade growing.
John and Sofia Ambler of Heletranz have almost finished a new two-level building storing six of New Zealand's biggest, most expensive private helicopters, including a US$7.5m AugustaWestland AW109S Grand with a top speed of 310km/h.
"Business is up 30 per cent since the lockdown," Sofia Ambler said.
"People are not going on holiday to Europe. We have two film ships working above the America's Cup. Tara Iti has been very good to us for people buying or building and playing golf. Some part-time Kiwis in the last six months are living back here. There's kiwifruit and grape frost work near Auckland Airport, Kumeu and south Auckland. And there's heli-dining to Waiheke."
The new 2000sq m hangar has luxury amenities for licence holders including:
• Indoor, secure parking for their cars when they are away;
• A boardroom for meetings on level two, overlooking the tarmac;
• New VIP lounge with soft seating, giant TV, kitchen and bar where owners can wine and dine, relax, hold parties and entertain guests.
"We could have parties for up to 150 or 200 people here," John Ambler said indicating the flow between that new lounge and the helicopter storage floor.
Code compliance is yet to be issued on the building with an internal stud height of 8m but John Ambler is hoping that will come by March.
Five of six licences to occupy for 20 years have been sold "for about $500,000 each".
The site at 234 Rosedale Rd is leasehold, owned by Auckland Council's Watercare Services. Heletranz has a 20-year lease there.
Building work started on December 2, 2019 and John Ambler said Stephen Taylor of developer Safari Group was instrumental in the project. Covid had a big effect, delaying construction and resulting in some prospective licence buyers becoming uncertain, he said.
"Ninety per cent of our business stopped last March."
The hangar's construction was halted "for the best part of eight months".
But as New Zealand's economy recovered and Covid had less of an effect than initially thought, customers flocked to the Albany base. People who would have spent money on trips overseas arrived, along with golfers heading to the luxury Tara Iti. The holidaymakers mainly go to Waiheke, the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel, Sofia Ambler said.
The new building with two sets of sliding doors, each 9m wide, also has purpose-built space of a new upstairs head office for Heletranz with staff facilities including a kitchen.
The project was not all straightforward, though. John Ambler was away for three months last year flying a private jet in Australia and ground conditions at the site were not what was expected, he said.
Instead of a thin top soil then solid clay, earthworks uncovered much deeper layers of topsoil, moved to create the first building on the site.
"The buildings has the foundations of an Olympic swimming pool, around 3m," John Ambler said. The existing Heletranz hangar and offices will become service, maintenance and engineering areas.
The couple bought Heletranz eight years ago when it had two helicopters but now there are 12 helicopters, most owned by multi-millionaire clients.
Last January, the Herald reported Heletranz had merged with Inflite to establish a national business. Heletranz owners have a 25 per cent stake in Inflite and the deal resulted in 30 aircraft - fixed-wing and helicopters - in the combined, much stronger fleet.
Some Heletranz clients with helicopters in the new hangar declined to be named or talk about the project, requesting privacy.