Flightseeing supports local business

Posted: Wednesday, June 07, 2000

I would suggest that everybody who is getting ready to sign the petition and vote for the initiative to limit flightseeing operations to six days a week take enough time to stop, look and listen. Take a look at the flight patterns that both the helicopters and the fixed-wing planes are following this year. You cannot help but to notice not only the different routes that they are taking, but also the higher altitudes that they are flying at. When you finish looking, stop to listen. There has been a definite change in the noise level this year.

The flightseeing companies are not foreign owned. They are as local as you can be. Wings of Alaska is a family owned business who were all born and raised in Juneau. Ketchikan residents started TEMSCO Helicopters; two of the principals are long-time residents of Ketchikan. Coastal Helicopters is owned and operated by Jim and Dot Wilson, Juneau residents since 1968. These people are our friends and neighbors, not aliens. They hardly qualify as carpetbaggers taking all their money and running south with it. Bob and Katherine Engelbrecht own Northstar Trekking. Bob has been in Alaska since 1981, involved in the helicopter industry. The business that is probably most affected by this ordinance is the Taku River Lodge owned by Ken Ward and his wife, Michelle, lifetime Alaska residents.

I'm hardly qualified to give a lesson in economics but I'm going to give it a try. Put yourself in our neighbors' places. You have invested hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in your business. You have every dollar that you have ever made, and in some cases, hope to ever make, invested in your business. You have been working six or seven days a week for a long time. You have overcome the obstacles that every business faces. Now, someone has come up with the idea that they don't like the noise your business generates. So, rather than work with you, that person wants to pass an ordinance to limit the days you can work with no thought to whether your now-viable business can survive on a six-day work week in a four-month season. And with no understanding that you have 12 months of overhead.

I could imagine the public outcry from the construction worker, schoolteacher, state and city worker, or doctor and lawyer if we said you could only work four days a week and your bills are still going to be the same. And we don't care what happens to your house, your car or your boat. This is what we are doing to our friends and neighbors in the flightseeing business. Shame on us. Our friends and neighbors do not deserve this.

Most people don't write a Letter to the Editor without a vested interest in what they are writing about and I'm no exception. I was also born and raised in Juneau and, with my wife Arbe, who was also raised here, have built a successful construction company. North Pacific Erectors has also survived the Juneau roller-coaster ride economy. We would not be able to do this without the work the tourist industry has provided. In the last few years we have been involved in the following 100 percent tourist-related projects: the TEMSCO hangar remodel and addition, the new Wings hangar, the private vehicle maintenance facility for Princess Tours, the steamship wharf addition, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center addition and remodel, and Mt. Roberts tram upper and lower terminals. This work amounted to more than $4 million that circulated through the Juneau economy. We employ between 25 and 40 people with salaries that range from $25,000 to $70,000 a year. Every one of these employees lives in Juneau. We need the flightseeing industry and so does Juneau.

Please, before you sign your name to this petition or vote for the initiative - stop, look and listen. The industry is working hard to make those business more compatible with how all Juneau residents live.

Jim Williams is the owner of North Pacific Steel Erectors, a company based in Douglas.

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