Optimism buoys Twin Ports’ new helicopter operationAmid a tough economy, Lake Superior Helicopters had a quiet liftoff with the purchase of two helicopters this spring to begin offering premium-priced tours and training.
By: Andy Greder, Duluth News Tribune
The growth of Lake Superior Helicopters resembles flying maneuvers.
Amid a tough economy, the startup business had a quiet liftoff with the purchase of two helicopters this spring to begin offering premium-priced tours and training.
“If you can make it now, you can make it anytime,” said Eric Monson, Lake Superior Helicopters’ chief pilot.
The business is hovering over the Twin Ports with customers and trainees flying out of its headquarters at the Richard I. Bong Airport in Superior.
“There was untapped demand in this area,” said Sandy Hoff, an investor and one of five owners. “We’ve been well-received and are on track with our projections in the business plan. … We’ve been methodical and have not had to rush to a market that is very hot.”
In the next phase, Lake Superior Helicopters hopes to dart into new commercial markets.
The business is planning to lease a $1 million Bell 206 Turbine helicopter by this fall. The helicopter’s main feature is an infrared camera to assist companies such as Murphy Oil and Minnesota Power with detection of underground power lines or oil pipelines, Hoff said.
The five partners — Scott Allen, Bernie Stein, Sean Kendall, Monson and Hoff — also hope to expand to government organizations such as the Department of Natural Resources and the Border Patrol.
“That could be a real win-win,” said Hoff, who is also a real estate appraiser. “Minnesota Power could have a contract with us for [say] 100 hours instead of owning its own helicopter and do it without the overhead.”
Tours range from $400 per hour on the two-passenger Schweizer 300c to $600 on the three-passenger Robinson R44 Raven II, according to the company’s Web site, lakesuperiorhelicopters.com. Lake Superior Helicopters has partnerships with Barker’s Island and Larsmont Cottages, Hoff said, with potential permits to work out of Bayfront Festival Park and Sky Harbor Airport.
All five partners used to fly out of Northern Helicopters, which was started out of the Hibbing-Chisholm Airport by Jim Martin and Brian Johnson about five years ago.
“Like any sales client list, they will come with you,” Martin said of Lake Superior Helicopters. “That is the way business goes. They will provide a lot of competition.”
Northern Helicopters has navigated the rough economy with a stable flight education program of about 25 to 30 students during the school year from Hibbing Community College and Lake Superior College, Martin said.
“Student use has helped us,” he said. “People still go to college and that is where we’ve been helped out.”