The company’s daily scheduled flights from the international airport to the East London banking district will take 20 minutes, compared with two hours by road. This means that packages can be put on earlier trans-Atlantic flights allowing DHL to guarantee overnight delivery from US financial centres.
John Pearson, the company’s European chief executive, said DHL had received a number of requests for this service from existing customers, many of whom are in the financial industry.
“This is not a marketing gimmick,” he said. “Cutting the travel time from the airport translates into a full day’s saving. A document can be sent from Chicago and be in London by 2pm the next day.
The Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter used to provide the service can carry up to 300kg of cargo, the equivalent of 2,000 documents each weighing 150g.
Mr Pearson said he expects the service will be carrying letters of credit, export bills and sales contracts. DHL said it will not charge existing clients extra for the service.
The delivery of hard-copy documents remains important even in the age of email and the internet.
“Years ago some people though the advent of the fax would be the death of the express delivery service but we’re still seeing global growth,” said Mr Pearson. “The need for real hard copies has not gone away.”
This is the first helicopter service DHL has launched outside the US, having established a similar operation in New York in the 1970s and more recently in Los Angeles.
Up and away: The helicopter cuts out traffic jams which could delay deliveries
Mr Pearson said DHL, part of Frankfurt-listed Deutsche DHL, is preparing to launch a similar service in Chicago in the next few weeks and is considering following suit in Frankfurt and Paris.
Despite the potential for the weather restriciting flying, DHL said it is targeting a 96pc to 97pc reliability rate for overnight delivery.
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