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A helicopter tour business takes customers on short flights so they can view their city from a bird's-eye view. This is typically marketed as a more expensive service for a more adventurous clientele, and it adds a touch of excitement into any community.
Who is this business right for?
This business is ideal for those already licensed to fly a helicopter, as there is a significant investment of time and money required to acquire a license. As such, it typically makes a good business for retired military personnel. Aside from a knowledge of helicopters, one of the best qualities for this business is to be a “people person,” as you must be able to charm customers before, during, and after flight.
What happens during a typical day at a helicopter tour business?
For a helicopter tour business, your days are straightforward. Most of them will ideally be spent flying customers around predetermined routes within your city. Otherwise, your time is chiefly taken up with helicopter maintenance, advertising, accounting, and general customer service.
What is the target market?
While many people enjoy a good helicopter ride, your target demographic is men between the ages of 35 and 45. They are likely to have enough disposable income for a relatively extravagant experience while still being young enough to seek out thrilling experiences.
How does a helicopter tour business make money?
A helicopter tour business typically charges a fixed price for short helicopter flights around a city.
What is the growth potential for a helicopter tour business?
The growth potential of this business is modest, as the Technavio forecast of the global helicopter tourism market predicts the industry to grow by 3.45% between 2017 and 2021.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful helicopter tour business?
As mentioned before, being licensed to fly a helicopter is a must for this business. Therefore, it's best to obtain this license before seeking to open the business. Any prior experience professionally flying helicopters is a great way to get your business started. Additionally, previous experience in the tourism and hospitality industry can help you market yourself to key demographics.
What are the costs involved in opening a helicopter tour business?
Unlike some small businesses, the costs of opening a helicopter tour business are significant. Depending on the size, make, and model, the helicopter alone will cost between $150,000 and $300,000. If you need a private pilot's license, it will cost between $10,000 and $15,000, and if you need to obtain your commercial pilot's license, this will take between $18,000 and $20,000. You must also lease a hangar for your helicopter, and the monthly cost of this will vary, though it is typically between $1,500 and $3,000 a month. You must also advertise your business, which is worth spending $3,000 on to start out. In addition, you'll need enough helicopter fuel to get started, which is about $1,000. Finally, you'll require insurance, and while the costs may vary, it is typically between $11,000 and $15,000 a year.
What are the steps to start a helicopter tour business?
Once you're ready to start your helicopter tour business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your helicopter tour business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your helicopter tour business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a helicopter tour business?
One tip is to fly as much and as often as you can on your own before doing it commercially. Carefully consult aerial maps of your city and determine the best paths to take customers on. Depending on your city, you should try to advertise via local hotels to gather the interest of tourists who may be visiting.
How to promote & market a helicopter tour business
Within your budget, it is worth advertising via “traditional” means such as radio, newspaper, and television. Social media is also an ideal venue for you to advertise for little cost in a way that highlights the visual appeal of your tours. If you have the budget and wish to make the investment, you may consider getting a video camera that can shoot 360 degree videos. This allows you to share special videos that provide a taste of how special these experiences are, and potential customers can get this preview using their smartphones.
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How to keep customers coming back
In addition to the advertising methods mentioned above, you should offer special rates for groups, which incentivizes customers to bring their friends and family. Consider featuring customers in your advertisements and social media to help them feel special so they want to return. Finally, focus on anything that can contribute to this unique experience, such as playing thrilling music for customers while you fly.
How and when to build a team
While it's not impossible to start this business completely on your own, you will likely want a small team to help serve customers and contribute to the maintenance of your helicopter.
Federal Business Licensing Requirements
There are a number of federal regulations and licensure requirements that your business must abide by. The following links give overviews and additional information on such requirements.
- Airmen Certification
- Becoming A Pilot
- 14 CFR Part 135 Air Carrier and Operator Certification
- Airworthiness Certificate
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a helicopter tour business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a helicopter tour business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your helicopter tour business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, helicopter tour businesses should have their clients sign waivers.
An example of an appropriate waiver can be found here.
How much can you charge customers?
How much you charge is up to you, though the amount is typically determined by the distance you transport customers. Typical flights cost between $20 to $355 and range from a simple eight-mile tour to a thirty-mile tour that features special city landmarks and other unique attractions.
What are the ongoing expenses for a helicopter tour business?
Your primary ongoing expenses will be the hangar for your helicopter (leases are typically between $1,500 to $3,000 a month), gasoline (typically less than $1,000 a month), and advertising (your exact balance of cheap social media advertising and more expensive traditional advertising is up to you, but this is typically less than $500 a month).
How much profit can a helicopter tour business make?
The amount of profit you can make is determined by how many customers you serve per year and which tour packages they buy from you. If you provide tours to eight people a day for five days a week at an average cost of $40 per person, you will make over $83,000 per year before expenses. It is possible to make more by serving more customers, selling pricier packages, or both.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Consider charging more for extra features. For instance, people may pay more to be flown over a scenic waterfall or an iconic amusement park. And you should offer seasonal specials for everything from Valentine's Day to Halloween. Finally, don't be afraid to raise your rates after you've established your business, especially if you have little to no competition in your area.