HAI Convention News

Friend or Foe? A Tale of Two Heliports

 - February 13, 2012, 9:15 PM
A Coast Guard Eurocopter H-65 touches down on the rooftop heliport at the Dallas Convention Center. It flew from Coast Guard Air Station Houston to help commemorate 1.25 million flying hours by the entire Coast Guard Dauphin fleet.

This could be a called a tale of two cities, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

First, you have Washington, D.C., which has had a viable heliport since early 1998, but it depends on your definition of the word “viable.”

Then you have Dallas, which has had Garland/DRW Heliport since 1988, one of fewer than a dozen stand-alone public-use heliports in the U.S. It was joined in 1994 by 49T, a heliport on the roof of the Dallas Convention Center.

Garland just added a new hangar and more ramp space. And for its part, 49T was a humming little rooftop sanctuary when AIN visited Sunday morning. Eurocopter was using the elevated landing pad to fly demos in one its EC145s. A Dauphin from Coast Guard Air Station Houston had just landed.

The Coasties were visiting Heli-Expo to help Eurocopter celebrate the fact that the powerful Coast Guard Dauphins were about to roll over the aerial chronograph on 1.25 million flight hours since the first of 102 H-65s joined the service in 1984.

Heady stuff for a facility that was built and owned by the City of Dallas to cater to fans of America’s football team, the Dallas Cowboys [we know where we are—Ed.], as well as various Texas college teams and visitors to the famous Texas State Fair.

The heliport also is used by performers and producers of television and films. Of course, business people use it too, which is one of the reasons the Omni Hotel was built next door.

Contrast that with the South Capitol Street Heliport in the nation’s capitol, which was authorized by Congress in 1984 to be part of a constellation of heliports up and down the East Coast and westward. 09W was literally built on an abandoned fuel oil storage facility, surrounded by a stone quarry in a sketchy part of Washington.

But 09W motored along, trying to start helicopter service to Philadelphia, New York and Boston. It was used as a fueling and staging area by Washington-area law enforcement, EMS, ENG and some public-use operations, including military.

Then came 9/11, and the wheels came off. South Capitol Street Heliport was eventually shut down (it scud-ran under the radar for a little while). It eventually reopened, but it remains extremely limited in what it can do. Donald Scimonelli, who has been with the operation from the start is down to himself and one part-time student employee, where there had been six people.

Scimonelli has been doing the Texas Two Step with the Transportation Security Administration virtually since the attacks, with little success. While he has been eking out a living, he needs more firepower.

He’s gained some allies, most notably D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Now some heavy hitters from the rotary-wing industry and business are weighing in.

In a letter to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, HAI chairman Matt Zuccaro wrote, “We are extremely sensitive to homeland security concerns and are willing to work with TSA and other governmental agencies to ensure the maximum safety of general aviation helicopter operations in the District and hope that your offices will be able to assist in opening a dialogue with TSA on this subject before the only public heliport in Washington, D. C., is permanently closed.

“After nearly 10 years, we believe a plan should be formulated to allow GA helicopter operations to and from the District of Columbia.”