Jackson Hole takes aim at helicopter tours



There's a fierce dogfight in progress over the airspace in Teton County, Wyo. Vortex Aviation Services, headed by Gary Kauffman, is gearing up to begin commercial helicopter tours over the county's scenic areas this summer (HCN, 8/14/00: Whirlybirds will fly over Jackson). The plan has environmentalists and other concerned citizens declaring war.

"We don't want him here, period," says Carl Schneebeck of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, which has filed an emergency petition to the Federal Aviation Administration to keep the heli-tours from beginning this month. The alliance cites a dramatic increase in heli-tour accidents - and fatalities - over the last five years, and points to scientific studies that document helicopters' negative impacts on wildlife.

The alliance hopes to stop heli-tours before they proliferate in the area; it has watched helicopters take over the Grand Canyon's airspace, and hopes Teton County will avoid a similar fate.

But it's fighting an uphill battle. The FAA says it has no regulatory authority in the matter, and implies that Vortex will be cleared for take-off. "The FAA is there to foster aviation's economic viability," says Howard Nesbitt of the agency's Flight Standards Service. He admits that position often puts the agency in direct conflict with conservation.

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