Residents Express Concern Over New Helicopter Tour Location

Less than a week ago, our Panama City personal injury law firm shared a report regarding a helicopter crash in Destin. The incident involved a privately-owned helicopter crash landing in a sandy area behind the Days Inn Hotel on U.S. Highway 98. Luckily, no one was injured in the crash, but the aircraft was heavily damaged.

This recent crash gives some added context to a debate currently being reported in The Destin Log. Panhandle Helicopter (aka Beach Helicopter) is a helicopter tour business based in Panama City Beach. According to the company's website, it is a family-owned business that was purchased by the Hott family partnership in 2008. Current tour offerings range from a five-mile introductory flight at $40 per person to a 36-mile seaside tour at a rate of $150 per passenger. At this time, the website notes a location in Panama City Beach and a seasonal operation out of the Destin Airport.

In November 2011, Panhandle filed a development application seeking approval from the Okaloosa County Department of Growth Management to construct a 1,232 square foot facility in the Kelly Plantation area. The proposed building would be constructed on a currently empty lot between BankTrust and LongHorn Steakhouse. In order to be able to launch Destin-area helicopter tours from the site, Panhandle would need to get the parcel rezoned from commercial to business tourism. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") would have to inspect the company's proposed takeoff and landing sites. Panhandle already possesses the FAA Operating Certificate needed for operating helicopter tours.

Homeowners in the Kelly Plantation area have expressed concern about the company's helicopters taking off, flying, and landing near the residential area. One Destin resident, Don Schroeder, filed a letter of protest after spotting a sign regarding a public hearing on the proposed development. The May 10 hearing was held at the county level since the parcel falls outside of Destin city limits. Schroeder's letter asked the county to reject the various applications relating to the proposed business and voiced safety concerns on behalf of commuters who travel on U.S. 98 and Commons Drive. Other community members have expressed fear that rubbernecking would lead to traffic accidents, with drivers being distracted and losing focus on the road as they watch helicopters take off and land. Noise from the helicopters is an additional concern.

The Okaloosa County Planning Commission will meet on June 14 for a public hearing on the Panhandle Helicopter project. Community members can attend to express their concerns about the endeavor. Eliot Kampert, the Okaloosa County Growth Management Director, noted that objectors will need to show that the proposal does not comply with county's overall comprehensive plan.

We hope that county officials keep safety in mind as they consider the Panhandle expansion project. As always, we are available to help in the event of accidents in our region. We are prepared to help victims injured in our area, whether it is a North Florida helicopter crash or a roadway traffic accident. Please call to arrange a free consultation with our experienced Panama City personal injury attorney.

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