Officials at Era Helicopters think a Thane-area heliport might be a good way to consolidate operations and reduce flightseeing noise in Juneau. But the company won't move without community support, officials said Thursday.
The company hosted a meeting with city leaders and residents at its North Douglas heliport on Thursday. Base Manager Amy Windred said the gathering was an opportunity to answer questions about alternative heliports and promote dialogue.
"We're happy where we are, but we do have constraints and are looking for solutions to some of our dilemmas and some of your dilemmas," she said.
Era operates 10 helicopters from North Douglas and four helicopters from the Juneau Airport during the summer and would like to consolidate operations, Windred said.
Four flightseeing companies in town offered a total of about 17,800 helicopter tours last year to the Juneau Icefield. Most of Era's 6,488 tours went to the Norris Glacier south of town.
The company could expand its North Douglas base, but is sensitive to community concerns, which is why it is exploring the possibility of a new heliport instead, said Lash Larew, executive vice president for Era Helicopters. Several years ago, Era proposed a new base at the little rock dump near Thane Road, which met opposition from Thane and Douglas residents.
The company is willing to spend money for a new heliport with the community's support and some financial help, he said.
"We're very interested in talking about this, but it's got to make economic sense," he said.
The city commissioned a study last year that said heliports at Montana Creek and Dupont, south of Thane, would reduce noise and tour flights over Juneau homes. Discussion also has focused on a possible heliport at Sheep Creek in the Thane area. Windred said Era doesn't favor one Thane site over another right now.
"We're looking at the nuts and bolts of a day-to-day operation out there," she said.
Era doesn't have plans for "massive growth," Windred added. "That's probably not a realistic view of the helicopter business today."
City Manager Dave Palmer, who attended a helicopter industry conference last month, said he's not sure the city can rely on quiet technology to deal with flightseeing noise. He suggested the city look into building a heliport south of downtown first because Era is interested in moving, he said.
Thane-area residents have expressed concerns about increased noise and traffic. Palmer said residents in the Bonnie Brae subdivision, Douglas and Juneau who are concerned about noise "outnumber" people in Thane. He later clarified his statement, explaining that the city doesn't want to pit one neighborhood against another.
"We're trying to make things better. If it doesn't make things better, we're not going to do it," he said. "I'm not saying that what Thane thinks doesn't matter."
If the city acquires land around Dupont, it could help buffer noise, Palmer said. The next step is to develop a process to move forward, he said.