Sundance Helicopters announces permanent closure of tourism business

AvatarBy Oliver Johnson | August 24, 2020

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 14 seconds.

Sundance Helicopters, one of the largest helicopter tourism operators in the world, has permanently closed its tourism operations at its home base of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sundance Helicopters' fleet included the Airbus H130 (pictured) and the AS350 B2. Anthony Pecchi Photo
Sundance Helicopters’ fleet included the Airbus H130 (pictured) and the AS350 B2. Anthony Pecchi Photo

The move, announced in a statement on the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages on Aug. 22, comes at the end of an ongoing temporary closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic that had now reached five months.

“The Covid-19 pandemic caused a steep drop in tourism in the Las Vegas area and forced Sundance Helicopters to close for commercial tours for several months,” the company said. “The continued loss in revenue and lack of visitors to Las Vegas necessitated the decision to permanently close.”

The closure is effective immediately, but Sundance said it “will continue to have a presence in Las Vegas to provide contractual charter work.” No further detail was given.

The company had flown more than four million customers on its various tours of the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas since its founding in 1985.

“We are grateful to our entire team and each guest that joined us over the years,” Sundance said in its statement.

Founded as “Helicopter Services of Nevada,” Sundance originally offered tours of the Las Vegas strip from the parking lot of the Landmark Hotel & Casino with a Bell 206.

Three years later, it signed a hugely important partnership agreement with the people of the Hualapai Nation to offer tours to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Following its purchase in 1991, the company was renamed Sundance Helicopters, and it passed the landmark of having flown 1 million customers in 1994.

Sundance changed hands again in 2012, when it was acquired by Air Methods Corporation

The company’s fleet, which reached up to 25 aircraft in 2016, consisted of Airbus H130 and AS350 B2 helicopters. The former displayed an instantly-recognizable and unique silver and gold chrome-plated livery, debuted at HAI Heli-Expo 2014 in Anaheim, California.

Just last year, it won a silver for the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s “Best of Las Vegas” Reader’s Poll award for “Best Helicopter Tour” in October 2019.

A Sector in Crisis?

The aerial tourism sector has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in the helicopter industry, in terms of a reduction in business. Almost all the major operators announced temporary closures in March, and only a few — including fellow Las Vegas/Grand Canyon operator Maverick Helicopters — have attempted to reopen with new safety measures in place.

Sundance was one of three companies that comprised Air Methods Corp.’s tourism division, alongside Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Hawaii Helicopters. Both Hawaiian operators have remained closed for aerial tourism since March.

Aerial tourism operators have proven to be a stepping stone into the industry for many pilots, with the set routes and routine operations helping them safely build experience and hours.

Sundance took its role in developing pilots for the industry seriously, with Mark Schlaefli, the company’s director of operations, playing a key role in launching the SkyPath Pilot Program.

This program, which ran as a partnership with training schools, provided a more direct route into the industry for young pilots during their training, and the first graduates were due to arrive with Sundance in spring 2020. Ultimately, the company had hoped to bring in 10 to 15 pilots each year through SkyPath.

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