There were 16,744 flight operations out of the Destin airport in the month of June, according to Timberview Helicopters. Timberview’s tours represented about 5,000 of those.
“It’s a busy airport and it’s getting busier as the city grows,” said Justin Johnson, owner of Timberview.
According to Johnson, since the last meeting with the Commissioners, Timberview has made some adjustments to their routes to see how it bears with the public. Johnson claims they have raised some altitudes on their aircraft.
- “We have a larger aircraft now that is capable of climbing at a higher rate quicker, and we’ve tried to make the climb-rate higher than any fixed-wing aircraft to try to create a noise buffer,” said Johnson to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.
According to Johnson, helicopter operators are in control of the aircraft, but they are told where to go.
“When we take off, we don’t choose to fly over someone’s house or fly over someone’s property,” he said. “When you get in the aircraft, the first thing you key up in the mic is your tail number or your call sign, and you ask, ‘may I depart?’ The tower tells you how to depart, where to depart and where to go. If we deviate, it’s called a pilot deviation and if you get one or more of those, you could lose your license.”
“It’s like breaking the speed limit or breaking through a stop sign,” Johnson continued. “So for someone’s idea that the business is operating irresponsibly where they fly, we are under a tethered connection with the tower until we get to the beach.”
Johnson says that once his helicopters arrive over the beach, they are released down the beach but that the tower still wants to know where they are at.
“If we deviate off of our route, we have to report it,” he said. “So it’s not like the wild west out there. It’s very controlled.”
Johnson went on to tell the Commissioners that his aircraft goes from zero to 500 feet.
- “That’s what the map says for helicopters. We have to be in-between those altitudes. If we exceed those altitudes, that’s a violation. But as you climb out, they’re going to be at 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet. They have to get to that altitude.”
According to Johnson, when an aircraft is heavier, it takes longer to get to that altitude.
- “Every flight is not the same because it depends on the load on the aircraft, how much fuel is in it, and how many people are in it.”
Johnson explained that if one flight seems lower than another, that it’s probably because it had a heavier load coming out of the airport.
He also claims that Timberview has changed the altitude as their helicopters come into the airport.
- “We’ve remained higher at almost 600 feet, which is 100 feet over the limit…The tower can authorize that and they did.”
In the end, Johnson stated that the tower controls everything they do out of the airport. Timberview’s attorney, Michael Schofield, had the same things to say:
“We cannot simply change routes because we desire to do so, we have to go through the FAA. The FAA governs the airspace once you lift-off in this area,” he said.
The Opposition: A group known as “Stop The Chop” was also in attendance with themed-out t-shirts as they spoke to the Commission.
The group of Destin citizens have voiced their frustrations over the tours that they say is hurting their quality of life.
Meanwhile, Timberview and the County are continuing to work on a new operating agreement. Okaloosa County will hold a meeting on Tuesday, August 3, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. at the Destin City Hall Annex, located at 4100 Indian Bayou Drive, Destin, FL 32541.
The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the draft Operating Agreement with Timberview Helicopters.