Sundance Helicopters Goes Bust in Las Vegas

 - August 23, 2020, 6:20 PM

Las Vegas-based Sundance Helicopters on Friday announced the permanent closure of its air-tour operations, citing a pandemic-induced steep drop in tourism in the Las Vegas area that forced Sundance Helicopters to close for commercial tours for several months. "The continued loss in revenue and lack of visitors to Las Vegas necessitated the decision to permanently close," the Air Methods division said in a Facebook post. “Sundance will continue to have a presence in Las Vegas to provide contractual charter work. Sundance has been proud to serve Las Vegas since 1985 and we are grateful to our entire team and each guest that joined us over the years.” 

In 2012, the company was acquired for $44 million by Air Methods and folded into its air tourism division, which includes Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Blue Hawaiian is closed due to state Covid-19 orders. Air-tour operations are expected to resume in Hawaii in October. A spokesman for Air Methods told AIN that Blue Hawaiian would “continue to operate” in the wake of the Sundance closure.  

Originally branded “Helicopter Services of Nevada,” by 2019 the Sundance fleet had grown to 29 aircraft and more than 200 employees. The former included Airbus EC130B4/T2s, AS350B2s, and a Cessna Caravan. The payroll was comprised of 40 maintenance technicians and 10 maintenance support personnel, as well as 35 full-time and about 18 seasonal pilots.

Before its acquisition by Air Methods, Sundance aircraft had been involved in several high-profile accidents including the December 7, 2011 crash of an AS350B2 that killed the pilot and four passengers near the Hoover Dam. The NTSB concluded the accident was caused by deficient maintenance that included degraded and improperly installed parts that rendered the helicopter “uncontrollable.” A lawsuit filed after that accident resulted in a Nevada jury awarding the families of the deceased tourists $16 million in 2014. In 2003, another Sundance helicopter crashed, killing the pilot and six passengers. The NTSB concluded the cause of that crash was the pilot’s unsafe maneuvering. 

In 2012, Air Methods’ then-CEO Aaron Todd said acquiring Sundance and Blue Hawaiian was designed to primarily to expand the pilot pipeline for Air Methods’ EMS operations, rather than as part of any kind of significant diversification strategy. Air Methods was acquired by private equity firm American Securities for $2.5 billion in 2017. 

Most helitour operations resumed in the Las Vegas market in June, but at significantly lower passenger volumes. Operators that remain there include Maverick Helicopters and Papillon Helicopters.