New Zealand’s ‘elevation hopping’ airport is no Eiffel Tower

The gate seems to be running for the airport in Bandung in Indonesia. But what the cool air turns on is something else entirely. And this remarkable sight could probably only happen in Bandung….

New Zealand's 'elevation hopping' airport is no Eiffel Tower

The gate seems to be running for the airport in Bandung in Indonesia. But what the cool air turns on is something else entirely.

And this remarkable sight could probably only happen in Bandung. Or, as other airports might cynically term it, Bandung city.

It is only the second airport to show this much altitude under the flightpath. The other is in Las Vegas, and this is why, say the aircraft engineers the Geneva-based Airbus Helicopters, it should be known as the Middle East of Midas. At 14,787 feet, Bandung is the only airport to rise more than 50% above sea level.

Tom Anderson, Airbus Helicopters’ head of special projects, said: “On a street in Bandung, where your average street rises about 10cm, this is compared to an average -12-foot elevation gain.”

He said the plane couldn’t fly over it, because it would have to be lowered. As a result, “all our pilots are trained to fly over something where they have to be able to return to landing with minimal fuel consumption and maintain an optimal altitudes”.

He was speaking at the launch of the Sikorsky S-92D helicopter, the newest version of which is about to land its first passenger. The story goes that – as we say – there is nothing more spectacular than an airport landing. For the user of the helicopter, a plunge down a steep slope with a steep landing into the valley below is certainly an exceptional first stop. The first person to land on this breathtaking final approach was a company executive who liked to watch the world go by. “He wanted to pilot the helicopter,” said Anderson. “He won’t be flying the helicopter anymore.”

Anderson said the traditional landing strips are getting shorter, leading to more opportunities for twisting and changing direction. The S-92 had been designed and built as a specialised aircraft for this purpose. The sleek shape and the skid plates keep the helicopter from skidding on the slick surfaces. “The kind of landing manoeuvres the helicopter makes are more normal than what people believe,” he said.

The Sikorsky S-92D reaches speeds of up to 530 knots (700 km/h) – an aircraft speed in an airport much more conducive to supersonic flights. The longer range allows fast landings and winches so the helicopter can climb even higher, to avoid the complexity of landing in cities, he said.

The cockpit is painted in a hummingbird motif in homage to the helicopter’s dreamy looks and shape. The model is due to be delivered to Cypriot airline Copa for testing in the first quarter of next year. As always, however, Anderson sees lots of scope for improvement. “If we can find a better design, we will make it,” he said.

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