HANAPEPE — Maverick Helicopters is adding its own choppers to Kauai skies sometime in early summer of 2018, to the disgruntlement of some residents.
“Maverick Helicopters is thrilled to offer our customers an unforgettable experience on the Garden Isle,” said Bryan Kroten, vice president of marketing at Maverick Helicopters. “With most of Kauai’s striking geographic marvels inaccessible by foot or road, helicopter travel provides the best way to see the island’s natural beauty.”
Airbus Ec130/H130 ECO-Star helicopters make up Maverick Helicopters’ fleet, which numbers at about 50 aircraft and is currently the largest and youngest out of all the tour-based aviation companies in the world.
In 2016, the company celebrated 20 years of operation as one of the world’s leading tourism companies, said a Maverick spokesperson.
The 2018 second-quarter arrival of the Las Vegas-based company adds to the more than 10 touring companies that use helicopters on Kauai to provide views of places like Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast.
Some of that activity comes out of the Port Allen Airport, which is situated near the Hanapepe salt pans — the only place in the world where Hawaiian salt is still farmed.
The salt is harvested after ocean water flows through shallow wells and into the salt beds and is put through a traditional drying process. Salt-makers say operations at the airport put a kink in that process.
“They’re always back-filling because they built it so close that he waves are always hitting their fence,” said Ku‘ulei Santos, whose family has been making salt in Hanapepe for generations.
The noise — from helicopters and other aircraft — is a nuisance, and the aircraft kick up dust during their activities. But Santos said the interruption of water flow has the most impact.
“They’re not being good neighbors,” Santos said. “This is the only place in the world that makes Hawaiian salt, and here you have these companies carrying on. How is that possible?”
The salt flats, located near Salt Pond Beach Park in Hanapepe, are at a lower elevation than the surrounding area, Santos pointed out, which means any run-off and pollution ends up in the salt.
“Everything flows to us, and we’re surrounded,” Santos said. “We want to protect the only place that does this (makes Hawaiian salt).”
Kauai is the second of the Hawaiian Islands on which Maverick Helicopters has established operations. The company began on Maui in 2015 and has been successfully operating for three years.
The Port Allen location will be the company’s sixth permanent location, adding to operations out of Maui, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon South Rim, and Grand Canyon West Rim. Currently Maverick Helicopters flies more than 250,000 guests annually out of their locations.
On Kauai, the company plans to start with two helicopters and will be hiring local staff, according to company spokeswoman Brigitte Ruiz.
Maverick Helicopters employs some of the industry’s top pilots, and has received accolades including the Federal Aviation Administration’s Award of Excellence “Diamond Award” from 2011-2016; Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association’s “Best Air Tour Company” 2010-2017; TripAdvisor’s “Certificate of Excellence” Hall of Fame 2011-2016; and Las Vegas Review-Journal’s “Best Tour” in 2014 and 2016.