Business & GA

How Helo Operators Cashed in on US Total Eclipse

By S.L. Fuller | August 21, 2017

Photo, courtesy of Holy City Helicopters.

Photo courtesy of Holy City Helicopters

A total solar eclipse occurred in the U.S. on Aug. 21, and the country is not expected to see another one until April 2024. Some airspace operators in or close to the path of totality — the areas that saw 100% coverage of the sun — were able to cash in on the rare phenomenon.

The path of totality ran from just south or Portland, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, according to NASA. The 100% coverage started at about 10:20 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Oregon’s coast and lasted until about 2:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time in South Carolina. Although the totality only lasted a couple minutes at any location, partial eclipse was visible for nearly three hours (exact duration depending on location). That left many opportunities for people to purchase helicopter rides and experience the eclipse from the air, or use one to fly to a scenic area.

At least one helicopter operator was even able to cash in before Aug. 21. Holy City Helicopters is a tour company based in Charleston. The company’s Hayden Ervin told R&WI that when he heard more than 1 million people were expected to flood into the area during the eclipse, and maybe even people from NASA and TV shows, he thought of a special service he could offer.

“I thought it would be cool to offer flights and show people some ‘off the beaten path’ locations that I know about in the area, where they could go and set up and experience the eclipse in somewhat more seclusion than everywhere else,” Ervin said. “So far, it has done really well on bookings and phone calls.”

As for the time slot during the total eclipse, Ervin said it was booked for months.

Aviation Specialties Unlimited (ASU), known for its night-vision goggle technology, offered non-scheduled, private charter flights from Boise, Idaho, to the Midvale Airport. According to the company, Midvale, Idaho, is “one of the best places in the United States” to view the eclipse, as it is in the path of totality. It could take more than 1.5 hours to drive from Boise to the Midvale Airport. In anticipation or “record-breaking travelers,”

ASU said it planned to operate its Bell Helicopter 206 on three round trips Aug. 21 and its Cessna airplane on four round trips. Group cost for a round-trip helicopter ride is $3,960; cost for a group on the Cessna is $875, depending on size and capacity.

Big Mountain Heli Tours of Bend, Oregon, is in its first year of operation. With Bend in the path of totality, the company’s CEO, Patric Douglas, said he was excited to offer some unique packages to people wanting to experience the eclipse, with helicopters leased from Leading Edge Aviation. For $80,000, Big Mountain is offering a “Mt. Jefferson Summit Solar Eclipse Basecamp,” at which guests can camp out on land owned by the Confederate Warm Springs Tribes. According to the company, this is the first time the tribe has issued a tribal permit for Oregon’s second-tallest peak. With the permit, Big Mountain can land on the peak’s eastern flank and set up the fully staffed overnight camp for a group of seven.

To get the exclusive permission, Douglas said it took six months of building a relationship with the tribe and working out a deal that was beneficial for both sides. The tribe, he said, did not want its land trampled upon.

“There's a perfect solution in helicopters,” Douglas, who has been in tourism for 36 years, but is a first-time helicopter tourism chief, told sister publication R&WI, “because they offer the lightest footprint on their land while giving access to people for adventures and offerings that they would never have had.”

Big Mountain also participated in Oregon Solarfest in Madras, of which NASA is a partner. “We’re actually going to execute the largest helicopter lift in Oregon history,” Douglas said.

The company made basecamps available for the eclipse, with a price tag of $8,000 each. Douglas said the company sold 10. He said he worked with a ranch owner who has 30,000 acres in the path of totality to allow the company to fly 60 people there.

“Helicopters are not just about power lines and fighting fires and transporting people from point A to point B. Helicopters can also be a bridge between cultures,” Douglas said. “Helicopters in Oregon have been just that — very functional, very business oriented. This is kind of a new use for helicopters, and I do like that — using them to bridge cultures.”

Check out NASA's image gallery that documented the entire occurrence of the eclipse.

This article was originally published in Rotor & Wing International.

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