Whirlybirds will fly over Jackson


After months of bitter debate, the Jackson Hole Airport at the edge of Grand Teton National Park has decided to allow some helicopter flights.

Vortex Aircraft CEO Gary Kauffman originally proposed scenic air tours of the Jackson Hole Valley, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge, but not over Teton National Park.

Jackson residents argued that the flights would be obnoxious and unacceptable. The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance gathered more than 4,000 signatures on a petition opposing the proposal.

"This is considered a very special place by a lot of people," Jackson resident Dan Fulton told Kauffman at a public meeting. "We will make it difficult for you to come in here and do what you want to do."

On July 17, the publicly owned airport came up with a compromise that allows Kauffman to rent out his helicopter for charter flights, but prevents him from advertising air tours.

Kauffman says unless he can recoup his investment, including the $1 million cost of a new helicopter, he will continue to press for air tours and may even launch from private land in the valley.

"There is a point when it can be economically persuasive when they say, 'We'll make it worth your while to leave,' " he says. "Until there's something serious on the table, I am going to forge on with this."

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Rachel Odell

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