Yet another sign U.S. Gulf Coast tourism has recovered from the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill: The start of heli-tour operations in Orange Beach, Ala.
The unusually wet summer tourism season has not dampened Oasis Aviation’s enthusiasm for the project, according to company president Steve Olive. Oasis, based in Peachtree, Ga., dispatched one of its five helicopters, a Robinson R44, to Orange Beach to fly individual tourists for $50 to $150 per head, fly whole-aircraft charter, conduct public-sector flights (including fire, search-and-rescue and traffic observation for the cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores), and make electronic newsgathering flights for a television station, WKRG, in Mobile, Ala. The R44 has a hand-held stabilizing camera mount and has flown numerous video missions this year covering boat races and a recent bill fishing tournament. It has also flown safety diver missions during boat races and will be used for utility contracts.
Typical tourist flights are up and down the beach and around the barrier islands in the area. Two pilots and a ground-support person, who does bookings, collects fees and helps load passengers, are assigned to the R44, which is flown single-pilot. Olive estimates that the R44 flies 35 hours per month and its missions are split approximately 80 percent retail tourism and the remainder distributed among the various aforementioned customers.
Oasis holds a Part 135 certificate and started operations in June from two helipads; one at the Wharf in Orange Beach and the other near Perdido Pass near the beach. Due to the weather, “The volume has not been quite what we want it to be,” Olive said. “But overall we have been pretty happy. We really didn’t get a chance to market much before the season, but next year we will see that pick up. I’m going to keep that ship down there year-round.”