Dave Bezos has ferried the likes of Kevin Costner, John Elway, and Wayne Gretzky in the $2.5-million, fire-engine red Bell 407 helicopter he flies. Another recent passenger was a lot less famous, but far more important: A human heart bound for Johns Hopkins Hospital from an Allentown, Pa. hospital. By ground, the trip could have taken four hours or more.
The chopper got it there in 30 minutes.
Bezos is the 34-year-old pilot and manager of Baltimore Helicopter Services, which is based out of the state's first and only public-use heliport on Pier 7 in Canton. Since opening last year—following a four-year zoning battle with the state—the $4 million Canton helipad's business has spiked, thanks to corporate choppers and wealthy VIPs paying $1,500 an hour for a 70-minute lift to Manhattan. "It's like a time machine,'' said Dan Naor, operating partner of the heliport, along with the adjacent Baltimore Inner Harbor Marine Center and the newly renovated Inner Harbor Marina. "Baltimore was long overdue to have a heliport.''
Ten to 20 times per day, helicopters touch down on the concrete strip, which boasts six landing pads and is surrounded by water on three sides. When the upcoming Die Hard was filming scenes in Baltimore, crews used it for two straight weeks. Landing fees can cost up to $150, with $25-an-hour parking charges for the aircraft. But the big bucks pour in from the fuel pumps: At $4.19 a gallon, choppers swallow an average of 60 to 80 gallons of gas per visit.
The Bell 407—the firm's lone helicopter—is considered top-shelf for a corporate shuttle, boasting deep red leather seats and a cruising speed of 160 m.p.h. "It's like a seven-passenger sportscar,'' Naor says.
Mike Zangara is a pilot with Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Stat MedEvac, which now keeps its own medically equipped helicopter at the heliport, as well as using helipad-side living quarters provided by the heliport. Heliports at neighboring airports "couldn't accommodate us,'' Zangara said. "They'd make us wait for fuel. It made for lots of frustrating moments.''
Naor anticipates increased traffic as more local firms and Baltimore bigwigs catch wind of the heliport and its charter-flight services, and he's planning to add a new 5,000-square-foot hangar. But the medical rescue missions are what Bezos finds most satisfying.
"It's fun to fly celebrities around, but this is definitely more satisfying,'' said Bezos, as he prepared to lift off with a medical team from Johns Hopkins bound for a rural hospital in Reading, Pa. to recover another organ. "This is the best part of my job as a pilot.''