Air tourism industry responds to demands

Members of the air tourism industry said they were “taken aback” by claims of disrespectful business practices and are planning a program to more effectively listen to the community.

Casey Riemer, general manager of Lihu‘e-based Jack Harter Helicopters, called the industry’s responsibilities a “tough balancing act. He said yesterday he understands the frustrations of community groups such as the recently formed Stop Disrespectful Air Tourism, or STOP DAT!, but many air tour operators do try to be respectful.

“Long-standing tour operators on this island realize that we live on a rock in the middle of the ocean, and we have to be respectful to the community we are in, to which we belong,” Riemer said. “But we also have to provide the services that people enjoy. We’ve been doing it for 40 years and we’ll continue to do so in a respectful way.

“There’s no such thing as a totally quiet helicopter or motored airplane,” Riemer said. “It’s an oxymoron.”

In the past the community and air tourism industry came together on a “voluntary noise abatement plan” that a majority of flights routinely follow. For example, helicopters flying over land between Lumahai Beach and Ke‘e Beach are encouraged to maintain an altitude of at least 1,500 feet. However, there is no current system for enforcing that plan on all air tour operators.

A group of Kaua‘i’s air tour operators met on Thursday and reviewed the noise abatement plan. The group has been working to bring newer operators up to speed on the plan’s details and importance.

Every operator in attendance made a commitment to participate in a soon-to-be-formed statewide organization of air tour operators that will focus on safety practices, community relations and interactions with governmental agencies, Riemer said.

One key part of the organization, which has a target start date of Sept. 15, would be the maintenance of a hotline to deal with noise concerns raised by the community.

“We’ll get it done,” Riemer said. “Even if we have to ‘pass the football’ every night from one operator to another.”

Bruce Coulombe of Wings Over Kaua‘i agreed that having open lines of communication with the community is critical in forming a working relationship.

“I’m hoping that we can get a dialog going between the two groups so we don’t have to revert to some of the more unproductive means of getting ourselves across,” Coulombe said. “Probably the best way is for us all to sit down together and talk over the issues and try to find solutions.”

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