Skip to main content

Air Import

Founded in Lucerne on May 1st 1948 by Mr. and Mrs. Chappuis of Meggen with a share capital of 50'000 Swiss Francs Air Import has been the first helicopter company in Switzerland.

Initially nevertheless for its services the company used light aeroplanes such as for example the Fairchild 24, Piper PA-15 Vagabond, PA-16 Clipper and PA-12 Super Cruiser. These aircrafts were based on the airport of Zürich-Kloten where the company had its offices and loaned a space in the hangar of the Pilatus Air Services.
The first helicopter in service with Air Import has been the Hiller 360 HB-XAI. It was an occasion machine purchased in the United States for 120'000 Swiss Francs, a lot of money at that time!

Its first helicopter pilot has been Mr. Albert Villard, the first Swiss who obtained a helicopter flying license. During the summer he completed the first helicopter training pilot school course organized by Helicop-Air in Cormeille-en-Vexin (France).
On the 16th of September 1949 this company received a temporary permission from the Federal aviation bureau (today Federal office of civil aviation) for commercial flights. At the beginning the helicopter was used for a variety of flying demonstrations and passengers transport. Everywhere it landed the Hiller 360 was surrounded of a crowd curious to see from nearby this “new flying carpet”. The director of the company Guy Warnez profited of this interest and used the aircraft for aerial advertising equipping the Hiller with large labels with the names of the products.

Some customers, as for example the famous Tobler chocolate company, built mockup of their Toblerone chocolate bars which were placed on both sides of the cabin. Much later the helicopters were used in agricolture for aerial spray. Air Import proposed its services in Switzerland and in others European countries, especially in Germany and Holland.

In February 1950 the company opened its flying school were the first Swiss pilots were trained.

Do not to be forget that Air Import was also the official distributor of the Hiller, Sikorsky and SNCASO helicopters.
In October 1951 the Swiss Army used experimentally one of the Air Import’s Hiller 360 piloted by Sepp Bauer for a series of tests which ended positively and lead on the acquisition of three Hiller UH-12B, the first helicopters purchased by the Army.
In 1953-54 the business of Air Import were proceeding well and the company had in service contemporary up to four Hiller helicopters and several pilots such as Sepp Bauer, Emil Müller, Walter Demuth, Leonard Kunz, Max Kramer and Carl Bode.

In November 1955 the company purchased the SO 1221PS Djinn HB-XAN, the first turbine-powered helicopter registered in Switzerland. The decision to buy this new model was probably taken after the brilliant flight demonstration made in March in the Bern Alps. During the test flights French pilot Jean Dabos landed with one passenger on the Mönch at an altitude of 4'100 meters, an exceptional performance for the small two-place helicopter.

The increasing competition, the lack of new contracts (especially in Germany where the Air Import was very active and where the commercial flying activities were starting again after the stop imposed by the Allies after WW2), the high costs of the helicopters and their spare parts and the birth of a new helicopter company (Schweizerische Helikopter AG later known simply as Heliswiss was in fact founded in 1953) restrained considerably a further expansion and marked probably the beginning of the end of Air Import. As consequence of this difficult situation in 1956 Mr. and Mrs. Chappuis decided to dissolve their company and invest a part of their funds in the Heliswiss.
Among the people who worked for the first Swiss helicopter company there were the mechanics Rheinhold Günthard, Josef (Seppi) Knecht, Hans Hunger, Ernst Bänzinger and Roth.

HAB 03/2014