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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different - A Public Use Heliport Success Story

By Randy Jones

I had the opportunity to do something truly unique this past month. I attended the opening of a new heliport. How unique is that, you might ask? Allow me to add some perspective. My name has been on the masthead of this magazine in some capacity for 25 years. In that time, I can recall the opening of only three heliports in the United States. I have attended exactly two grand openings of new heliports, both in the Dallas, Texas area where I reside, and both, not inconsequentially, opened as a direct result of the efforts of the same corporate team of Ken and Connie Pyatt, owners of Sky Helicopters.

A couple years ago, I did some background research for a presentation to the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Aviation Transportation Committee. The committee is charged with making recommendations to their respective city and county agencies regarding future transportation requirements that would have broad regional applications and require extensive cooperation between the various entities. Before the invitation to speak at their annual planning meeting, I had never considered that such organizations existed, but it seemed to be a perfect forum in which to discuss heliports. In preparation, I wanted to provide some background on the current status of dedicated, public use heliports in the state, so I set about searching for that number.

Eight. That’s it. At that time, there was a grand total of eight public use heliports in the entire state of Texas, which you might have heard, is a rather large state – as my friends at Bell Helicopter have been fond of pointing out, larger than the entire country of France, though I have no idea why they would enjoy that particular comparison quite as much as they always seemed to. At the grand opening last month, I found myself chatting with a couple of gentlemen from the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) Aviation Division and relaying the information I had found in my earlier research, with more than a touch of dismay in my voice that it could truly be correct that in the entire 268,820 square miles that make up the state of Texas we only have eight public use heliports. As I spoke the number, they both immediately furrowed their brows, and one of them said, “There’re not that many.”

So the fact that one company has actually been integrally involved in the opening of not one, but two public use heliports in the state, is truly a unique and somewhat amazing accomplishment. Even more impressive is that Sky Helicopters is not a “serial launcher” of heliports, moving from project to project, dumping one when it slows or fails and then moving on to the next. Far from it. The recently opened and quite impressive DeSoto Heliport, just a few miles south of Downtown Dallas, now joins their original venture, Garland/DFW Heloplex (T57), located in the suburbs just northeast of Dallas, which is still very much in operation, and in fact, thriving. Sky Helicopters is the primary tenant at Garland, of course, operating a fleet of R22s and R44 Newscopters, providing ENG services to the local broadcast affiliates, and fuel and hangar space to other area operators, as well as helicopter flight training from ab initio, on up. As an authorized Robinson dealer, they can also sell you an aircraft when you get your rating. For all the flight schools that come and go, and generally operate on the thinnest of margins, Ken and Connie and crew must be doing something very right, and considerably different, as Sky Helicopters has made the Inc. Magazine 500 annual list of the fastest growing privately owned companies in the United States three times in recent years.

But all the credit for the uncanny success opening new public use heliports does not derive solely from the savvy business sense and shear sweat of the brow of Ken and Connie Pyatt, though they certainly have, and have-exerted both, respectively. The success, in my humble opinion, seems to be directly derived from their thorough understanding of how all the government entities, such as the ones I addressed at that meeting a few years back, have to work together, and in Ken and Connie’s unique ability to somehow make willing, eager and lasting partners of those government entities along the way. Now that is an art form and a talent of which our industry could stand to have much more.



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