After two successful years in operation, Helijet International hit some turbulence last winter with the low snowpack and unpredictable weather causing havoc to Whistlers tourism industry.
Since January the helicopter service from Vancouver International Airport has been losing money on its scheduled flights to Whistler, and last week it was revealed that they would no longer be offering a regular scheduled service to Whistler.
"Based on the demand that weve had and some of the operational issues of getting up there with the weather and whatnot and of course last year was a bad year for everybody were stepping back," said Rick Hill, vice president of marketing and commercial alliances for Helijet.
"At the same time its important for people to know that were not pulling out of the community, and that were going to continue to work on it and find the best way to do it. We dont have a schedule this year but we will still be offering charters on everything from our smallest aircraft to our newest 23-person aircraft."
Overall, business is down for the air carrier, although the companys regular route to Victoria should pick up considerably once the provincial legislature reopens in mid-September. The route from Seattle to Campbell River during the fishing season is also strong, although numbers are down slightly compared to other years.
While Whistler business is down significantly, Hill said the service still sees busy periods.
"Its very much something that goes in peaks and valleys," he said. "The demand is there. Interestingly enough, even when we offered a scheduled service we still had a lot of people who wanted to charter their own aircraft because they were with families and would have taken up the whole thing anyway, or because they wanted to fly at a specific time that suited them."
Over the next month Helijet will be meeting with stakeholders in Whistler to discuss options for the future, including local hotels, Tourism Whistler, the municipality and travel agencies. The goal, says Hill, is to build that charter service back into regularly scheduled flights.
Helijet recently ended its partnership with Alaska Airways, with whom they shared a reservation centre. Helijet now offers its own full service reservation centre, including the ability to book flights online from anywhere in the world.
"That could have a big impact down the road on how we offer service to Whistler," said Hill. "(Whistler) sees such a huge contingent of people coming from all over the world its not really the local market that uses this service, its all inbound from places like Australia, the U.S., Germany, Mexico. So were finding the need to really concentrate on the international customer."
Helijet began flying to Whistler in 2002 and in 2004 reported that the number of flyers taking advantage of the 28-minute flight from the airport to the Whistler heliport had more than doubled in the second year.
Helijet is a Canadian-owned company, and North Americas largest scheduled helicopter airline. They offer service to Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria and Campbell River. For more information visit www.helijet.com.