By S.L. Fuller | November 2, 2017
Palm Beach Helicopters President Dan Crowe has wished for there to be way he could land his charter and tour helicopters in locations more convenient for his patrons. The only problem, he told R&WI, is that local rules and other provisions give the Florida-based operator “virtually no off-airport landing sites” at all. In response, Palm Beach Helicopters built a mobile maritime helipad and has turned to the public to fund it.
Called “Heli Harbor,” the helipad would be built into a boat and travel the Intercoastal Waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, according to the operator. This way, the aircraft — the fleet comprises Robinson Helicopter Co. and Bell Helicopter models — can land safely “almost anywhere along the waterway,” the company said.
“Being able to capitalize it is also on my wish list,” Crowe said of Heli Harbor.
Crowe said that over the past few years he began to learn about crowdfunding. He decided that Kickstarter was the platform that best fit what he was looking for. Crowdfunding is generally rare in traditional aviation endeavors. One of the most well-known uses of the method is perhaps XTI Aircraft Co.’s TriFan 600 equity campaign on StartEngine.
XTI infamously failed to reach its minimum investments in 2016 and was forced to refund backers and close its campaign. However, the campaign was reopened soon thereafter and XTI engaged an investment bank to supplement the crowdfunding campaign. In October, the company said it had begun to assemble a scaled test version and plans to fly it within a year. Though Crowe realizes investments can be risky, he is confident in his campaign.
“The way the Kickstarter model works is it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. You set your project funding goal, and your pledgers or your backers come in,” Crowe said. “No money exchanges hands, no credit cards are charged unless the pledges reach the project goal. Nobody is out any money until the goal is reached. That protects both sides because it stops me from getting too little money and either having to give it all back or not having enough to do the project. And it stops people from paying money and running that same risk.”
The Heli Harbor crowdfunding goal is $1.2 million. So far, with 22 days left in the campaign, the campaign has raised $1,828. Palm Beach Helicopters, which is also a flight training facility, is offering gifts and services in return for certain pledge amounts. A pledge of $235 or more gets the backer one hour of flight training. A pledge of $750 or more is worth a one-hour charter on a Bell 206. The gifts for smaller pledge amounts include bumper stickers and apparel and can be shipped anywhere in the world. If the goal isn’t met, no refunds would be necessary.
“[Heli Harbor] is a project that’s probably going to be almost a year in the making once the construction starts on the boat. You have years worth of time when you don’t have any ability to generate revenue … And once you get it done, you have a period of time to try to make the concept work,” Crowe said. “Using the crowdfunding is like you’re generating your revenue up front to get the thing paid for, and you’re paying for the cost of the capital up front by providing rewards to the backers.”