Flight restrictions will ground some island operators - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Presidential pinch: flight restrictions will ground some island operators

Pat Magie Pat Magie
P.J. O'Reilley P.J. O'Reilley

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Helicopter tour operators on Oahu have reached an agreement with the federal government that will enable most of them to keep flying during President Obama's upcoming visit, but the island's only seaplane tour company will be grounded.

The Federal Aviation Administration will impose flight restrictions to run from noon December 23 until noon January 4. The restrictions will prevent commercial operators from flying within ten miles of the Kailua neighborhood where the president is expected to stay. Flights over other parts of Oahu will be allowed, but only after all aircraft and passengers are screened by T.A.A. personnel.

Tour operators thought they would be forced to close because of the restrictions, but they have struck a deal with the government that will allow most of them to stay open.

The T.S.A. will set up a designated screening site at the airport. Tour operators wishing to fly must bring their aircraft and passengers to the screening location to be inspected. Once they have passed inspection, they can fly anywhere except within the ten mile no-fly zone.

"It's still a pretty huge inconvenience for us. And I think its ... more importantly it's an inconvenience for our customers. And that concerns me. But due to the nature of what we're having to go through ... this inconvenience ... we're going to be OK and we're going to work through it," said Richard Schuman, owner of Makani Kai Helicopters.

The T.S.A. screening plan will not help Paradise Helicopters or Island Seaplane Service.

Island Seaplane's plane is equip with pontoons, not wheels. It cannot land at the airport for inspection, and therefore will not be allowed to operate while the president is on Oahu.

"It really hurts. We looked at this as probably going to be the best two weeks of the whole year," said Pat Magie, owners of Island Seaplane Service.

"The economy the last 15, 16 months has been bad. Our numbers are way down. We are looking at these two weeks coming up, the holidays, as really starting to shape up again. Now we can't fly," Magie said.

Paradise Helicopters is based at Turtle Bay on Oahu's North Shore. In order to fly it would have to buss customers to Honolulu International Airport to be screened. It would also have to fly its helicopters to Honolulu for a pre-flight inspection before every tour.

Paradise will temporarily close because of the added cost and inconvenience.

Flight schools are also feeling the presidential pinch.

If they file flight plans, and pass inspection, they can fly. But only from point "a" to point "b."

"The rule is, you can't loiter. And flight training is a lot of loitering. You go out and you do pattern work. You do auto rotations, settling the power, and other things that you need to fly around in the air for," said P.J. O'Reilley, manager for Mauna Loa helicopters.

"We'll probably be able to do some ground work, you know, the ground study portion of it. But flying is what we do ... and that's out," O'Reilley said.

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