The Another

    On the Riviera, the incessant buzz of helicopters is here to stay



    A helicopter flies over a yacht sailing on the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez in southern France, on September 7, 2021.

    A year ago, Vincent Lindon, president of the jury of the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, opened the festivities by reminding the audience about “the torments of a planet that is bleeding, suffering, suffocating and burning in the indifference of the powers that be.” Outside, the red carpet was “eco-friendly” and vehicles “100% electric.” The consensus seemed unanimous: The festival had to go green. But once again this year, the season for the Côte d’Azur’s helicopter companies is off to a flying start.

    In the spring, well before the cicadas start singing, the incessant buzzing of the aircraft transporting a very wealthy clientele begins. On the coast, helicopters bring Saint-Tropez, Monaco, Nice and Cannes to within a quarter of an hour of each other, for a mere €2,300 one way. In addition to these sky cabs, there are many private helicopters. This business has made the helipads so successful that the Gulf of Saint-Tropez has become “the biggest heliport in Europe,” according to the mayor of Ramatuelle.

    All you need is a clear space that is large enough, flat enough, hard enough to land and within walking distance of the VIP villas for rent for the weekend. Most private clients land in their own backyard or in the neighbors’. The owners who “lend” their land to the companies are paid “€100 to €200 per landing, depending on their location,” explained a former employee of a foreign helicopter company. They can earn up to €1,600 per day. “The amounts are obviously not declared,” he confirmed.

    Government criticism

    “We’ve gotten used to keeping our heads down and our mouths shut during the season,” said 61-year-old carpenter Olivier, who didn’t want to give his last name. His family has lived in Ramatuelle for more than five generations. For him, there are “those who come by helicopter” and everyone else. In the summer, during aperitifs in the garden, he has gotten into the habit of pausing the conversation when a helicopter flies over his house. “Sometimes you can’t even hear the TV.”

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    Many organizations have been fighting for years for recognition of the pollution that it causes. In 2021, the court ruled in favor of the local residents. The judges held the state responsible, citing a need to improve the regulations. Since April 2022, a ministerial decree has aimed to regulate traffic throughout France.

    In June, a prefectural order specific to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez followed. The place is a “national hot spot,” according to the sub-prefecture of Draguignan (Var), with more than 30,000 movements – a take-off and landing equals two movements – per year. These figures are largely underestimated according to different organizations. In 2020, a bailiff noted that one resident had 98 daily passages over his villa in Ramatuelle located behind Pampelonne beach.

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