A private company’s request to perform scenic tours via helicopter seems reasonable, considering that we already have airplane tours, skydiving and hot air ballooning. Grand County has approved a lease agreement with Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Tours to take up office space in Canyonlands Field Airport, a beautiful facility that I think is a bit underused from a community standpoint.
Pinnacle’s new office here opens the door for them to start helicopter trips this month, and perhaps this weekend.
Helicopters are common sightings in Moab, largely due to the near daily visits we get from life-flight choppers transporting patients to Grand Junction for treatment. When Moab’s new hospital opened a couple of years ago, the noise from medical helicopters was even more noticeable than when the air ambulances were landing at the old Allen Memorial facility on the west end of 400 North. The new hospital is closer to downtown, and the landing and takeoff patterns put the birds right over city center. But I don’t mind it. I’m thankful every time I hear or see a St. Mary’s helicopter, knowing that they are helping to save the lives of our residents and visitors.
Helicopter use can also be busy in Spanish Valley during fire season and when search-and-rescue missions are going on, based out of the heli-pad just south of town. That activity is critical to our emergency preparedness, and again I don’t mind when I hear the noises in the sky. Occasionally, we have law enforcement helicopters during Jeep Safari and other big events, and we also see them for private and commercial uses such as filming.
But some Moab residents are in opposition to commercial scenic tours via helicopter because it may further threaten the tranquility of our desert. I understand those worries. Such use certainly isn’t critical to our safety. But it can be another aspect to our diversification as a tourist destination, and can contribute to the well-being of our local economy.
I am hopeful that Pinnacle and all tour companies, including my little trail ride business, are held accountable for their impacts and that they will be forthright about their intentions and goals. In this case, decisions regarding the breadth of the helicopter business are based with the county, which provides commercial lease space, and with the Federal Aviation Administration which governs the air space. Should Pinnacle want to land anywhere besides the airport, another land manager would have a say.
It seems to me that the greatest noise from helicopters comes from taking off and landing. The proposed scenic helicopter tours will be commencing at Canyonlands Field, far away from downtown, where the skydivers and jets are conducting business. Given the current roar and dust of ATVs in that region, it isn’t likely the helicopters will be noticed much.
Anxiety about chopper use over remote and non-motorized areas within the 25-mile radius in which the tours are proposed is valid, and may at least be partially allayed by further communication between the company, the county and the community. It appears the company is restricted from flying over our nearby national parks. Pinnacle’s representatives say they will be sensitive to the environment and the community. That should be the case with all commercial ventures taking place in and on public air and ground space.