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Helicopter firm studies flights to ski resorts

Anne Knowles
aknowles@nnbw.biz
Whisperjet Helicopters plans to add runs to Squaw Valley and Mammoth Lakes this year to quickly transport skiers and snowboarders to regional ski resorts.
Courtesy Whisperjet Helicopters |

The ski slopes may be just a helicopter ride away next year if Whisperjet Helicopters gets a new service off the ground.

The helicopter company is working to launch a passenger service from Reno to California resorts in Squaw Valley and Mammoth Lakes in time for a new air route between Reno and London starting up in December.

Thomas Cook Airlines announced last fall that it would offer twice-weekly nonstop flights between Reno-Tahoe International Airport and London’s Gatwick Airport during the winter, between December and April, starting this year.

“We’re working on establishing that service, it is quite an undertaking,” says Geoff Hall, chief executive officer of Whisperjet Inc. “We need to acquire two to four machines and in order to do that we need to establish the business model. Each (helicopter) is $2.5 million.”

Whisperjet is working with travel agents, the ski resort industry and the Federal Aviation Administration to dedicate a helipad at Squaw Valley for its planned flights.

Hall says similar services are routinely offered elsewhere, such as Canada and Australia, and are not just for the wealthy.

“They’re people who only get a week or two of annual leave, they’re single, don’t have kids and want to make every minute count,” says Hall. “Flying to and from Squaw Valley costs roughly the same as renting a car and the just car sits up there and does nothing all week and is subject to road conditions and traffic.”

Hall says Whisperjet may purchase helicopters that seat between six and 16 passengers to move people and use the company’s existing fleet of utility copters to haul luggage and ski gear.

The passenger service would give Whisperjet something to do during its slow season.

The company now operates six helicopters, with a payload of 1.25 tons, to clear trees for power lines, roads, railways and other right of ways and for firefighting for the U.S. Forest Service and state contractors, mostly during the spring, summer and fall.

The company also works with construction firms to help move equipment.

“A lot of these big warehouses they’re building, the center of the roof is so far from the edge that you need a helicopter rather than a crane to place the A/C unit,” says Hall.

Whisperjet relocated three months ago, consolidating operations in Florida, Oregon and Chico, Calif., and moving 74,000 spare parts in 20 truckloads into a three hangars and a warehouse for vehicle maintenance comprising 30,000 square feet in Reno.

The business employs a dozen people, including four part-time pilots. Hall has been flying helicopters for 30 years.

And the company knows how to move into new markets.

Whisperjet is owned by Elling Halvorson, owner of Papillion Airways, which has operated helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon since 1965.

Hall says he was working in Australia towing huge antenna for mineral exploration a few years ago when he contacted Halvorson about using one of his helicopters. At the time, Halvorson was looking for new uses for his equipment and suggested Hall start up a new business venture for him here.


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