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Traffic Jams Boost Helicopter Travel in Brazil

Monday, 25 Apr 2011 | 11:21 AM ET

Nothing epitomizes Brazil's tremendous growth and tremendous challenges more than the helicopter.

Helicopter flying over Sao Paolo
Jane Sweeney | The Image Bank | Getty Images
Helicopter flying over Sao Paolo

You see them by the dozens every day over Sao Paulo, and they are not filled with sightseers but commuters trying to get to work on time.

Isabella Aquino, an obstetrician, tells CNBC that without helicopters, life in Sao Paulo would be “chaos because (there are) so many cars and so many people.”

Aquino has increasingly turned to helicopters to get to deliveries on time. When she needs to get across the city, babies can't wait. “In a helicopter it takes about 12 minutes. In my car it depends on the traffic but it is about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours.”

There are more registered helicopters in Sao Paulo than any other city in the world; 593 to be exact, surpassing New York and Tokyo in just the last five years.

The key reason — traffic is horrendous.

Brazil's strong growth lead to record car sales last year, and in some months monthly sales are rising 30% year over year. But road construction has not kept pace. Add to that high levels of crime, which make sitting in traffic particularly risky.

Access: Brazil - A CNBC Special Report
Access: Brazil - A CNBC Special Report

Jose Eduardo Brandao runs a helicopter dealership. His prized product: the Italian Agusta, which runs for roughly $6 million. A Versace interior is optional for an additional $2 million.

But it's popular, according to Brandao, because it can land easily on almost all of the helipads in Sao Paulo.

Unlike New York City and Los Angeles, where there are very few places to land a helicopter, in Sao Paulo there are hundreds of helipads atop the many skyscrapers.

But helicopter use isn't limited to Sao Paulo. At the start of a long holiday weekend choppers land continuously in Rio, loaded with families who can't bear the drive.

Forget Highways, Take a Chopper
CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera takes a look at the helicopters darting between skyscrapers in one of South America's most congested cities.

Anand Hemnani, the representative director of the OTCQX Advisory Group for Madison Williams & Company, says, “As a child we'd get to the nicest beaches in Sao Paulo or between Sao Paulo and Rio in an hour and 20 minutes. Now it takes upwards of 3 1/2 hours to drive, and on the way back on a Sunday evening it's a five-hour commute.”

Stories like Hemnani's planted a seed with insurance entrepreneur Rusvel Pinto, who just three months ago started a helicopter taxi company for those who can't afford to buy one themselves.

He says, “If you are a businessman or a successful self-employed person it is a necessity because you have a commitment and you must get there on time and you never know with the Sao Paulo traffic.”

In this case, "time is money,” Pinto told CNBC.

Justin Solomon contributed to this report.

Watch our special coverage, "Access Brazil," Monday-Thursday, April 25-28. Maria Bartiromo and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera report from Brazil on Squawk On The Street, 9-11am ET, Power Lunch, 1-2pm ET and Closing Bell, 3-5pm ET on CNBC.