Helicopter Traffic on the Rise in Mexico City

February 20, 2007·6:00 AM ET
Heard on Morning Edition

Mexico City is far from quiet. After all, the megalopolis is home to more than 20 million people. Added to the swirl of sound is a particular whirring overhead every few minutes: helicopters.

Mexico has joined Brazil at the top of the list of Latin American countries for helicopter use. In a country in which around 50 percent of people live in poverty, it's a growing business, as those who can afford it increasingly choose to avoid the smog, traffic and kidnappers down below by flying high.

Even though poverty is staggering in Mexico, so is wealth. And over the past few years, rich Mexicans have been getting richer.

Helicopter sales are booming. Many operators are refurbishing their aircraft, even the police and law enforcement are increasing their fleet for security reasons.

More and more private owners have seen a benefit of owning a helicopter for security and for saving time. Mexico is the kidnapping capital in the hemisphere. On the ground, traffic snarls are infamous.

Eurocopter Mexico Sales Manager Ricardo Capilla says sales increased 50 percent last year, even though the helicopter he's touting doesn't come cheap. It costs about $1.6 million without customizing.

Mexico City is now only second to Sao Paolo, Brazil, in the use of helicopters. That includes the increasing use of heli-taxis, which can hop even more nimbly around the city.

Sponsor Message

The airwaves are buzzing at Mexico City airport with helicopters and airplanes asking for permission to take off and land.

"Mexico City is a complicated place to fly, there is a lot of traffic, there are helicopters from news companies, TV stations, all kind of executive choppers. So there is a lot of traffic, and it can get quite complicated," said Eduardo Trujillo, a helicopter pilot who flies out of Mexico City's airport.

A ride over Mexico City in a helicopter shows not how the other "half" lives, but rather how the 1 percent of the country who can afford to rent out or own a helicopter lives.

It feels like a completely different experience — looking at the traffic below (and the pollution) and soaring over it.

Trujillos points out the presidential helicopter flying right next to us, with President Felipe Calderon on board. Up in the skies, you do have good company.

Over Santa Fe, where many of the wealthiest Mexicans live, many heliports are visible on top of the tall buildings.

But the ride is all too quickly over... followed by a drive home.

NPR Mexico City producer Luisa Ortiz contributed to this report.