By Donald Wittkowski
A mother in Bucks County, Pa., decided to throw a surprise party for her son on his 21st birthday this past Saturday. But the real surprise was who – or in this case – what dropped in.
All of a sudden, a helicopter hovered overhead and landed in the yard, near the pool where the party was being held.
“He was so excited to see the helicopter. You should have seen his smile,” Maria Kepp said of the 21-year-old son.
Kepp and her husband, Tim, own Sky River Helicopters. It was one of their choppers that swooped in at the birthday party. Once it was there, the helicopter stayed around to give the party guests some scenic rides.
The birthday surprise is just one example of the customized flights that Sky River Helicopters will do. This summer, the company began flying tour flights at the Ocean City Airport and is already making plans to return next year.
“We definitely want to build on our business here,” Maria Kepp said during an interview Monday at the airport office.
Tim Kepp noted that Sky River and the Ocean City Airport have developed a strong business partnership in just the first year.
“The city is excited to have us here and we’re just as excited to be here,” he said.
Sky River offers coastal flights that give passengers a bird’s-eye view of the Jersey Shore from an altitude of just 200 to 300 feet, lower than the advertising banner planes that buzz the beaches during summer. During Sky River’s flights over the Fourth of July weekend, for instance, passengers were close enough to the ocean to spot around 50 or 60 dolphins.
Sky River offers a 15-minute trip over the Ocean City beaches for $225, a 30-minute jaunt up to Atlantic City and back to Ocean City for $425 and a 45-minute flight that includes Cape May, Ocean City and Atlantic City for $600. Prices are for two people. There is a $50 charge to add a third person.
The company has mainly been serving Ocean City during the weekend, capitalizing on the big crowds that surge into town for the beach weather. The Kepps are in the process of figuring out a flight schedule in the early morning and late afternoon that will draw more people away from the beach for the tour flights.
“In the daytime, people are on the beach. We want to get them before they go on the beach in the morning and after they leave the beach in the afternoon, but before they head out for dinner,” Tim Kepp said.
Sky River will continue to operate tour flights out of Ocean City until Sept. 24, then will break for the offseason. It will also offer quickie flights for $40 per person during the Ocean City Airport Festival on Sept. 16.
In addition to its Ocean City flights, the company operates out of Northeast Philadelphia Airport in Philadelphia, Sky Manor Airport in Pittstown, N.J., and Doylestown Airport in Doylestown, Pa.
Sky River specializes in private, customized flights rather than giving simple, short-hop rides like those offered by other helicopter companies along the Jersey Shore. Ocean City’s reputation as an upscale family town fits Sky River’s demographic profile, the Kepps explained.
“This seems to be a higher-end community and a family town,” Tim Kepp said.
The company also offers VIP charter flights, demo rides, aerial photography and aerial surveys using a fleet of five helicopters. Tours are given on four-seat Robinson R44 helicopters, while the company’s two-seat Robinson R22s are mainly used for flight training.
Parties, engagements, weddings and charity events are some of the customized flights offered by Sky River. Tim Kepp, who also serves as a pilot, recalled dropping candy, golf balls and even rose pedals from the helicopters for special events.
“Whatever you can do in a helicopter, we’ve done it,” he said.
For engagement flights, the company will even supply the champagne and roses. For some of the engagements, people will hold signs on the runway saying, “Will you marry me?” Maria Kepp noted.
“I don’t think we’ve had any no’s yet,” she said with a laugh, referring to unsuccessful marriage proposals.
For more information on Sky River Helicopters, visit http://skyriverhelicopters.com/ or call (908) 809-5942.