Air share: Helicopter ride share in the sky

An ABC7 I-Team Exclusive

Jason Knowles Image
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Helicopter ride share in the sky
Call it ride share in the sky! It's like Uber or Lyft, only in a chopper. The ABC7 I-Team is examining the safety and cost of this new way to beat traffic.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Call it ride share in the sky! It's like Uber or Lyft, only in a chopper. The ABC7 I-Team is examining the safety and cost of this new way to beat traffic.

The people who created this service say you don't have to be rich or famous to get around in a helicopter. But how safe is it?

The I-Team wanted to know more about the pilots and choppers that are zipping through our skies.

ABC7's Jason Knowles: "So here we go, the most expensive ride share ever, huh."

It's also 2,000 feet in the air.

You can pay the company Evolux a premium price on your own, or find friends and strangers online to join you in the sky.

"Once you divide it up between the seats, even if we don't have it fully loaded, it still becomes a decent price range for people," said Ken Janik, the pilot.

That "decent" price could be as low as $150 depending on where you are going.

Much like Uber or Lyft, you can use your smartphone to choose a pick up and drop off spot.

Right now, the service travels between about three dozen airports in the region and four different helipads, including this one by the United Center. The aircraft sits six people.

You can also go to and from Milwaukee, Indianapolis, the Horseshoe Casino, Chicagoland Speedway and more.

"We can go to Lake Geneva, we can go to the suburbs, there are concerts in the suburbs," said Hailey Maddix, a customer.

You too can beat traffic for under $200, but at such an affordable price, you may be wondering if the service is safe.

"Well they are putting their lives in the hands of an operation that has already gone through rigorous testing," said Raymond Leavitt.

Leavitt started Evolux. He says it aggregates "specially" licensed charter pilots from existing helicopter operations. He says those pilots pass government background screenings and are vetted through the federal aviation administration.

"It's not like we just go and find just anybody that has a helicopter to be part of the platform," Leavitt said.

He admits that Evolux does not conduct their own independent seven-year background checks like Uber and Lyft.

"It is not really part of our responsibility to do that, the operator has to register his pilots with the federal government so that's one thing we don't have to worry about we just have to be really careful we are not bringing any operator into our platform," Leavitt said.

No flight plans are required and the goal is to expand pick-up and drop-off points. That could mean a Chicago skyline one day bustling with choppers.

Knowles: "With just a few clicks on my phone, I can get a chopper ride - what's your concern with that?"

"That's absolutely a quality of life issue," said Colleen Mulcrone, Fair Allocation in Runways.

Air noise activists like Mulcrone aren't thrilled.

"Whose quality of life means more? The person who wants to take a helicopter trip from the South Loop to Wrigleyville or the whole neighborhood and the hundreds of thousands of people in these neighborhoods that are gonna be impacted by that," Mulcrone said.

Leavitt says Evolux uses lighter weight helicopters which he claims are less noisy than other choppers and even lawn mowers.

And for those who may be skeptical of safety:

"Well these pilots have thousands of hours, they have gone through strict certifications, they don't just become a commercial pilot - they have to go through rigorous certification processes with the FAA," Leavitt said.

Besides FAA checks, Leavitt says Evolux also monitors third party companies, which keep track of pilot and helicopter maintenance records.

Evolux says pilots carry their own insurance and that Evolux supplies another $1 million of insurance per ride.