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Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, centre, at the opening of Falcon?s helipad at Marina Mall.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, centre, at the opening of Falcon?s helipad at Marina Mall.

Helicopter tour to give bird's eye view of Abu Dhabi

Falcon Aviation opens a Dh3 million (US$817,000) private heliport and terminal next to Marina Mall.

An Abu Dhabi helicopter operator has opened a Dh3 million (US$817,000) private heliport and terminal next to Marina Mall to cater for corporate clients and Abu Dhabi's growing tourism industry. Falcon Aviation's 30-minute guided island tour will provide UAE residents and tourists with a bird's eye view of the capital - offering a new perspective on the city's design and the hundreds of billions of dirhams of development plans under way.

The tours are being conducted using Falcon's $3m Eurocopter EC130, which seats six. Officials said the opening of the terminal would provide greater exposure and easier access to Falcon flights, negating the need to pass through long airport check-in queues. And when space is available, Falcon will even be able to accommodate walk-on customers. "You can be shopping at Marina Mall, see the helicopter fly by and think 'what a beautiful afternoon,' and after wandering down and providing identification, be processed and flying in 30 minutes, easily," said AJ Baker, the vice president of business development and strategy at Falcon Aviation Services.

The tours above Lulu, Saadiyat and Yas islands, including fly-bys of the Ferrari World and the Yas Marina Circuit, cost between Dh490 (US$133.40) and Dh1,250 for a 10, 20 or 30-minute flight. Emirates Palace, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and Al Raha Beach are also part of the tour. Tourism is a small but growing part of the UAE helicopter industry, with tours in Dubai and now, Abu Dhabi. By contrast, about 90 per cent of aircraft operators' work is providing offshore support for oil and gas companies.

Corporate travel between Dubai and Abu Dhabi forms a significant portion of their business, with fares of about Dh13,000 for the service. But that could change as Abu Dhabi's tourism agencies open hotels and tourist attractions and continue their push to bring in more cruise ships. "We don't expect to be at capacity in 2010 but in the high season in 2011 we will have two aircraft there [Marina Mall], running six to 10 flights a day, seven days a week," Mr Baker said.

The move comes as Falcon transfers most of its flights from Al Bateen Executive Airport, a converted military airbase on Abu Dhabi island. "We want to give corporate and tourism clients a better bang for their buck," Mr Baker said. "Here we have a better location, and a beautiful terminal facility designed for quick in and out." Falcon, which has a fleet of 21 helicopter and five business jets, diversified its business into the offshore oil and gas support sector in 2008, winning its first offshore for a three-year deal with Total, the French oil producer.

The contract was for the provision of up to three flights a day between Al Bateen Airport and production platforms and drilling rigs at Total's Abu Al Bukhoosh field, located 177km offshore, near the maritime border with Iran. igale@thenational.ae

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