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Helicopter ride-sharing service takes off in Manila

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Ascent Founder and CEO Lionel Sinai-Sinelnikoff is confident of the prospects of the helicopter ride-sharing service in the Philippines. -- CATHY ROSE A. GARCIA

TECH START-UP Ascent has introduced its helicopter ride-sharing service in Manila, targeting both local and foreign businessmen who are looking for a way to avoid the traffic in the Philippine capital.

Lionel Sinai-Sinelnikoff, Ascent founder and chief executive officer, said the company offers scheduled flights to and from fixed destinations such as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and central business districts.

“What we offer is a helicopter service by the seat. We enable our passengers to move around the city by helicopter. We are providing flights from and to NAIA, but also from and to different locations in the city such as Makati, BGC and Quezon City,” he said in an interview last April 6.

Singapore-based Ascent is backed by a Japanese investment fund Re.A.Pra (Research and Practice). For its Philippine operations, the company partnered with PhilJets, whose helicopters are being used for the service.

“Ascent is our flagship project for the digital aspect of PhilJets… We are very excited to provide a new customer experience for Metro Manila,” PhilJets Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thierry Tea told reporters.

Mr. Sinai-Sinelnikoff said the company decided to launch its service in the Philippine capital, where traffic congestion is estimated to cost some P3.5 billion in lost opportunities daily.

“Manila has a perfect mix of elements that favor the development of such a service. Manila has large, extensive traffic, and a lot of density and extensive distances for economic activities. There is also high number of helicopters available and infrastructure of helipads as well,” the Ascent CEO said.

“The regulator is highly experienced. This mix of elements highly favors the development of such activity… The Philippines is booming as well, so there’s more foreign investments and national initiatives that push the growth of the Philippines.”

Manila’s traffic problem may discourage some international businessmen from coming, but Mr. Sinai-Sinelnikoff hopes Ascent’s service will make it easier for them to travel around the city.

“We hear a lot of customers who say they’re not keen on going to Manila because traffic is a complicated element… So we offer speed, reliability, and comfort. This element of reliability is key. When you’re in Manila, as you know, when you go from here, you don’t know what time you’ll arrive. That is difficult for many of our customers when their time is precious,” Mr. Sinai-Sinelnikoff said.

A seat on a helicopter flight from Makati to NAIA, which takes five minutes, costs P7,800. For the NAIA-Quezon City route, a passenger would have to shell out P12,800 for the six-minute flight.

Ascent uses an Airbus H130 for the service, which can accommodate six passengers plus the pilot.

As an added convenience, Ascent can also arrange for a vehicle transfer from the helicopter drop-off point to the passenger’s final destination. Pick-up and drop-off points include the helipads at the Manila Peninsula in Makati City, SM North EDSA in Quezon City, St. Luke’s Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City, as well as the PhilJets hangar near the NAIA.

“What we want to contribute to alleviating traffic issues to favor business, to favor the life of people… You can fly Ascent so you don’t have to limit your business meetings to two a day. You can have five meetings a day. You can have people meeting at the destinations as well,” Mr. Sinai-Sinelnikoff said.

Passengers can book flights on the Ascent website or app. Scheduled flights are currently available only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

There are plans to add routes and frequencies as demand grows, such as Alabang, Clark and Tagaytay, Mr. Sinai-Sinelnikoff said.

“In the future, we will expand to other cities of Southeast Asia, Asia and hopefully the world. It’s a global initiative,” he said. — Cathy Rose A. Garcia

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