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Sun, Aug 20, 2023

Hawaii Air-Tour Operators Undertake Grassroots Relief Operation

Heroism’s Essence

Helicopter air-tour operators throughout Hawaii have mobilized for purpose of transporting critical supplies to those parts of the islands devastated by wildfires.

The relief effort, mounted without regard for profit or expectation of recompense, comes amidst ongoing FAA attempts to decimate the air-tour industry by way of so-called Air Tour Management Plans (ATMPs)—radical and reactionary regulatory measures seeking to eliminate air-tours entirely in some areas of the U.S. and, in others, cutting such enterprises by as much as 86-percent.

The destruction of infrastructure has left residents of Maui without water, food, baby-formula, diapers, pet-food, and medications—commodities at once essential to wellbeing, dignity, and survival. Tons of such goods have been flown into Maui’s Kahului (OGG) and Kapalua Airport (JHM) aboard helicopters belonging to Hawaiian air-tour operators.

Featuring a fleet comprising Airbus AS350 B2 A-Star and Robinson R-44 helicopters, Rainbow Helicopters is among Hawaii’s premier air-tour operators. Company founder and CEO Nicole Battjes set forth the seventy-mile-per-hour sustained-winds by which the Maui wildfires were fed were the strongest she’d seen in her 12-years working and living on the islands.

Moved by the plight of mothers and infants left homeless and without essentials in the fires’ aftermath, Battjes, herself a mother, took on the responsibility of coordinating a relief effort by which the suffering of the fires’ victims might be assuaged—if even to a small degree.

Battjes stated: “As you know, I have an eight-week-old and a two-year-old, and this hit me really hard to see mom’s in need of essential items.”

Battjes, who also serves as the current chair of th eHelicopter Association International (HAI), dispatched her father-in-law and an employee to the Honolulu Costco with a shopping list and her credit card. Upon their return, the pair presented Battjes with a windfall of relief supplies and a four-thousand-dollar tab.

In short-order, Rainbow Helicopters undertook coordinated missions to airlift essential goods directly to Lahaina. The sorties focused on the provision of baby-formula, diapers, wipes, and other necessities to the women and children left worryingly vulnerable in the disaster’s smoldering wake.

“I was planning on just sort of paying for this stuff myself and just running it over there [to Maui],” Battjes conceded. “But baby formula is fifty-to-sixty bucks a container, and a box of diapers is like $45. I thought maybe we should start raising some funds.”

Days later, a GoFundMe page set up by Rainbow Helicopters had raised upwards of $51,000, and Rainbow had delivered more than three-thousand pounds of supplies to Maui from its base on O-ahu’s Honolulu International Airport (HNL).

Battjes credits the relief effort’s success to Rainbow’s fifty employees, stating: “Everyone has had their hands in this. People came in on their days off to launch helicopters. It’s just inspiring, really amazing.”

The Rainbow Helicopters website states: “Rainbow Helicopters’ relief initiative has seen collaboration from various places. The company itself, alongside dedicated staff, donated flights and countless man-hours, while Castle and Cooke Aviation chipped in by contributing the fuel required for the missions. The cooperation extended beyond corporate boundaries, as women’s groups from both Oahu and Maui joined hands to contribute essential items for the cause. The collaboration underscores the unity and compassion that the disaster has ignited among communities across Hawaii.

“The success of Rainbow Helicopters’ relief operation rests upon the commitment of numerous individuals. The company’s Chief Pilot, Joshua Melaccio, General Manager, Susan Kim, and Director of Maintenance, Mike Iven, played pivotal roles in ensuring the seamless execution of the initiative. Their dedication and diligent efforts played a crucial role in the successful completion of each flight. Furthermore, Rainbow Helicopters’ Director of Operations on Maui, Matthew Frisbie, has worked tirelessly day and night since the fires began, reflecting the unwavering resolve of the team towards the cause.”

Ironically, the heroic humanitarian effort undertaken by Rainbow helicopters and fellow air-tour operator Maverick Helicopters—which contributed four Airbus EC130 helicopters and the carriage of some 18,000-pounds of emergency supplies—may preface a protracted period of hardship as the island’s tourism industry contends with the extensive devastation wrought by the fires.

Maverick Maui chief pilot Jake Harmon confided his operation currently hasn’t a single tour on its books.

“This time of year, we are usually flying 15 tours a day,” Harmon rued. “We’re at a complete standstill and so are the other operators. The governor and the mayor have asked people not to come to Maui. The hotels on the south side of the island and at Wailea, which would typically be very busy, are ghost towns. I was at a big one yesterday that only had 20 people in it. We need to fly to make sure we can pay everybody and right now there is just not anyone to fly.”

Harmon’s concerns extend beyond his company to encompass the Maui residents whose livelihoods depend on the island’s tourism industry.

“People aren’t working,” Harmon deplored. “It’s a big deal. Some of the hotels already are talking about layoffs. The rest of the island is the same. Everybody’s still just kind of at a loss for words for what happened, but once the dust settles and people can start to heal, the government needs to encourage people to come back to Maui. It’s still beautiful.”

FMI: www.mauicounty.gov/1133/Visitor-Industry


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