On Tuesday morning, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0 to not accept the proposed new operating agreement with Timberview Helicopters at the Destin Executive Airport. (Commissioner Goodwin abstained from voting.)
- Airport staff and legal counsel met with Timberview representatives and counsel on June 24th to begin discussions on a new operating agreement.
- Over the next several weeks, the parties met by video or phone multiple times and exchanged several drafts of the operating agreement.
- By July 30, 2021, the parties reached agreement on a final draft, which was presented to the public for comment on August 3rd.
According to the County, a central goal was to secure a new Letter of Agreement with the Control Tower at DTS defining tour helicopter routes that avoided direct overflights of residential and resort areas.
- They also wanted to increase the altitudes of flights to minimize impacts on residents and visitors that would be incorporated into the new operating agreement.
- The proposed new routes would have required Timberview to fly between 500 feet and 600 feet or higher above ground level for the portion of tour flights beyond the Airport boundary.
It was a full house on Tuesday as the Commission heard from a number of residents, business owners, Aviation board members, and a former Timberview employee. And while the County says that they have reached out to the FAA for help on the matter, no action had been taken from the FAA prior to Tuesday morning’s meeting.
- Ultimately, the Commissioners said they had to make a decision regarding the possible impact helicopter tours have on the quality of life in Destin, safety issues, tourism, and the mission of the military.
- That decision was to not accept the new operating agreement.
Due to the Board’s June 15, 2021 vote to terminate the prior Operating Agreement effective August 17, 2021, Timberview’s commercial operations at the Airport have also been terminated.
- This does not include the heli pad near Highway 98, which was approved by County, FDOT, and FAA in 2012.
- The County has no authority over Pad Operations.
“The FAA, as General Fornell said today, moves at a glacial pace,” said Commissioner Nathan Boyles. “So at some point, somebody just has to step up to the plate and go, ‘you know what? We’re going to deal with this.’ And if someone says, ‘look, it’s not your turn to bat.‘ Alright, that’s fine. Well, when the other guy shows up, let me know and I’ll move out of the way. But until he gets here, somebody has gotta be swinging.”
“There’s going to be some litigation out of this,” continued Boyles. “So now we’re going to be spending some tax money in order to defend this decision that we’ve made. I’ll stand by that because I do think at the end of the day, a future that doesn’t have a tour helicopter buzzing the beach every 30 seconds is a better future for Okaloosa County.”