Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Helicopter tours coming to Gulf Shores?

GULF SHORES, Alabama -- Starting next year, helicopter tours may begin flying out of Jack Edwards National Airport.

Airport Manager Jerri Thompson informally broached the idea during Monday night’s City Council meeting telling leaders that the Airport Authority is in favor of the new business endeavor but is seeking input from the council before moving ahead.

“They’re asking for a license and operating agreement to operate out of the airfield,” Thompson said. “They are originally from Dayton, Ohio. They operate out of Pigeon Forge (Tenn.) right now. They’d be coming in with 1 helicopter. They do between 700 and 800 operations a year that computes to about 14 a week. I’ve already had a long discussion with them. They’ll mainly be doing scenic tours but they also do some helicopter flight training.”

Thompson said the airport receives a lot of calls throughout the year for helicopter tours.

“We haven’t had that to offer yet and we think that would be great for the tourists,” she said. “They’re looking at opening up operations sometime during the first of February if everything is good with the council and authority.”

Mayor Robert Craft said there are a lot of unknowns that must be clarified before the city would be able to move forward with an agreement.

“Obviously the first question that comes to my mind, having as many noise questions as we have, is hours of operation, days of the week, flight paths so that we are protective of all the residential communities,” Craft said. “And the elevation that they fly. Sometimes helicopters can get pretty low and that creates noise, plus it creates potential conflict with banner planes and some of our parasail folks. So there are some significant issues there we need to make sure we agree on.”

Thompson said with the helicopter training based on Emergency Medical Service use, and with the scenic tour flights, she didn’t see much need for the company to fly at night, if at all.

“The FAA really doesn’t have any regulations as far as heights for helicopters so I agree with you there,” Thompson said in response to the mayor’s concerns. “I told them we have banner tow and parasail on the coast so they’re aware of that. Probably what I would recommend is doing a short-term licensing and operating agreement to make sure that we don’t have any additional problems and then go from there, if they’re open for that.”

Craft said he wasn’t too concerned about the length of a contract but the stipulations that are placed on the company will be key.

“My thoughts are if we had some type of written rules that they have to follow,” Craft said, “then they’ve got a year lease and if they follow those rules they’re fine. But if they don’t we’ve got some teeth in the ordinance that allows us to pull their contract if they don’t after reasonable warnings, adjust as necessary. To me, I wouldn’t expect them to sign a shorter lease but we put the requirements in there that we know are important and make them follow it. Whatever that is and that’s just my opinion.”

Councilman Jason Dyken asked Thompson what type of helicopters currently fly in and out of the municipal airport and if there are any complaints.

Thompson said that each week the military flies about a dozen Blackhawks into the airport from Fort Rucker and while those helicopters are much bigger and noisier than the one that would do the scenic tours, they received very few complaints. “Maybe once every two months,” she said.

Craft said the council and the Airport Authority can sit down in the beginning of January and iron out an agreement. 

Source:  http://blog.al.com



No comments:

Post a Comment