Heli tours aren’t a done deal – just a bad deal.
The Airport Board just granted Tony Chambers of Wind River Air a permit to fly intrusive helicopter tours over our public lands. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wrote to the County Commission that they “consider the matter closed.” And after repeatedly claiming that he “wants to do the right thing,” Mr. Chambers is going full speed ahead. Despite enormous community outcry, heli tours could take off this summer.
That sure sounds final, doesn’t it?
But Jerry Blann, Airport Board president, had it right in his Guest Shot two weeks ago. There are four entities that can stop heli tours, he wrote: Wind River Air, the FAA, Congress, and YOU.
Put simply, YOU, the public, are what creates the political will for change. YOU, the public, hold the power and the purse strings.
There are still three paths to stopping these invasive helicopter tours:
First, we could get Congress to rewrite the rules. We can’t leave the safety of our community in the hands of the FAA. To confirm this, all you have to do is research the 18 heli crashes in Hawaii in the last 5 years, how the FAA has ignored National Transportation Safety Board recommendations for the Robinson 44 (the model proposed for tours here), and how it gambled with public safety even after Boeing 737 MAXes started crashing. If you know our federal delegation, please reach out and ask them to shepherd the Safe and Quiet Skies Act through Congress with haste.
Second, the “invisible hand” of the free market could ground Wind River’s chopper. If our community – conservationists and business owners alike – makes enough noise, maybe potential customers will decide that they don’t want to harm a place they love, and they won’t book tours. That’s basically what happened to the last operator 20 years ago. No business, no tours.
Third, Mr. Chambers could do the right thing even if nobody requires him to. After all, he’s said he wants to listen to our community all along. Well, our community has been pretty clear – heli tours are bad for our quality of life, bad for our businesses, and bad for our wildlife and public lands. As a member of our community, Mr. Chambers could still decide to stand down and put his entrepreneurial spirit to use another way. We sure hope he will.
For any of these to happen, we need you to stand up and speak out. Talk to our federal representatives, talk to your business-owner friends, and talk to Wind River. Let’s make it clear that heli tours around Grand Teton National Park aren’t a done deal – they’re just a bad deal.
(This was also featured as letter to the editor.)