Tourism supports other helicopter uses

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

Coastal Helicopters Inc. is the only helicopter company in Juneau that is both locally owned and operates all 12 months of the year. We are family owned and three members of our family work in the business full time. Coastal is also the only local helicopter company that is not pre-sold on the cruise ships, however much of our visitor business comes from ship passengers. I have supported my family in the helicopter industry for most of the 32 years we have lived in Juneau. That having been said, here are my thoughts on the noise issue.

The helicopter industry has lost 50 percent of the geographical area we can operate in during the last 30 years. Logging, mineral exploration and remote construction projects are disappearing.

The visitor industry is one of the markets those of us in the aviation industry have found to make up for some of the loss we have experienced. In our case, only a small percentage of our revenue comes from this source, however it allows us to keep more employees working on a year-round basis and is important to our business.

Helicopters are used in building and maintaining the facilities that bring electricity to all residents of Juneau. Helicopters are used in constructing and maintaining the communications system that most everyone in this community relies on for telephone and electronic media use. Helicopters are used in maintaining the communications system boaters use for calling the U.S. Coast Guard when problems occur. Large segments of the communications and navigational system used by all aviation users are constructed and maintained by helicopters. When there is a disaster, frequently, helicopters are among the first called. Lost hikers, hunters and boaters frequently call the aviation community for assistance.

This is only a small list of the important services helicopters provide the communities they operate from. In addition to these basic services local residents often use helicopters to move building materials to remote sites. Many locals like to use helicopters for hiking, skiing and snowboarding. Without the flightseeing activities, many aviation companies will not be able to offer the local people the level of service they have come to expect. In fact, without tourism in the summer, remote cabin site visits, skiing, snowboarding and hiking drops may not be available to locals during winter months.

Much of this initiative is centered around ``quality of life.'' To our employees, quality of life is being able to provide the necessities of life and, yes, even take a hike or go fishing on days off. Without their job, they may be forced to leave Juneau, or worse, be without a job. When people choose to live in the third largest city of any state, they should expect the noise associated with the prime industries of that area. In our case, aviation is a prime industry of Juneau since we not only provide essential services to most of the communities surrounding us, but also provide a service to the visitors that come to see Juneau.

For those who want the peace and quiet of parks and wilderness areas, we have set aside about 50 percent of Southeast Alaska for that very purpose. In fact there is one such area within 15 miles (Admiralty Island) of downtown Juneau and another two a mere 35 miles away. Helicopters are not allowed to land in those areas.

Should this initiative pass, it will have negative impacts on Juneau, this company and our employees. Juneau will lose untold revenue from taxes and fees collected by the tourism industry. Coastal Helicopters will have fewer employees and will not be able to offer local citizens reduced rates or continue to donate approximately $10,000 to local charities.

We, in the aviation industry, want to work with the community to find solutions to the noise issues. Many of the proponents of the initiative want to shut flightseeing down. When I go downtown and cannot find a parking place, that does not make me want to move the capital. It makes me want more parking. If this community does not change the way it views industry, I fear we will lose the capital. Much of the state does not look favorably at our attitude toward the visitor industry. We need that industry and the tax dollars that go with it.

I hope each person reading this will give serious thought to how his/her life would be affected if he/she were to lose a day's pay each week, and his/her workday were shortened with a corresponding wage reduction. If this initiative passes, it will do that to many businesses and employees.

I encourage each and every one of you to think about the benefits the aviation and visitor industry brings to Juneau and vote against this initiative.

James M. Wilson is the owner and operator of Coastal Helicopters. He has lived in Juneau for 32 years.

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