BlueSky Helicopter Tours will take to the skies above downtown Waco on Wednesday, giving tourists and others rides starting at $89 that will originate from Heritage Square, 311 Austin Ave., near the Waco Convention Center and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce headquarters.
These flights from Heritage Square will supplement tours BlueSky already offers from the Texas State Technical College airport.
BlueSky has finalized a lease agreement with the city of Waco for use of the site on Austin Avenue and hopes to cultivate business from among the thousands of tourists visiting downtown on a weekly basis, many of them bound for Magnolia Market at the Silos.
“Being centrally located in the heart of downtown at Heritage Square, we expect brisk business starting almost immediately, adding new excitement to a city already receiving worldwide notoriety due to the ‘Fixer Upper’ experience,” said Adam Aldous, president of Night Flight Concepts, a company associated with BlueSky Helicopter Tours.
BlueSky customer relations manager Vonda Larsen-Iacovetta said flights from downtown will start at 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday and end about 5 p.m. once the operation is up and running. She said the helicopter will accommodate three passengers, and takeoffs are scheduled at 15-minute intervals, if demand dictates.
“We’re not yet sure how many flights we’ll be taking daily. We’re just eager to get started and begin tracking,” Larsen-Iacovetta said.
A retail store offering souvenirs will operate near the boarding area, where tourists also can reserve longer trips out of TSTC’s airport.
The 20-or-30-minute tours that start at TSTC carry people above downtown Waco, along the Lake Brazos corridor and can extend to Lake Waco. Those wanting to make the trip at sunset or at night, when they will wear night-vision goggles, will pay $249 or $299, respectively, according to a price breakdown on the company website.
“I think this is going to be fabulous,” said Susan Morton, a tourism manager for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I think I can safely say the majority of people coming to visit Waco are doing so for Magnolia, though not just for Magnolia by any means. I think this is going to pique their interest.”
Aerial photos of Waco “are just beautiful, so how great would it be to take your own?” Morton said. “What an amazing way to start or end your visit to Waco.”
“The one that intrigues me is the night flight with the goggles,” Morton said. “I’m also told that BlueSky will offer customized tours.”
Waco City Council approved a six-month special permit in December, allowing Aldous’ firm to lease 2.8 acres on Austin Avenue for use as a helipad. The firm will pay $1,000 per month to use the parking lot next to Heritage Square and will vacate it when the city needs the space for convention center events or festivals.
Council members approved the permit unanimously but directed the city staff to work with Aldous to ensure the building it erects is appropriate for downtown.
Councilman Jim Holmes said he has heard some concerns about noise from the helicopter, but he said the permit’s short time span will give the operator a chance to prove it’s not a nuisance. He said he thinks the helicopter tours could encourage visitors to make Waco more than a quick stop.
Larsen-Iacovetta said any sound is noticeable at takeoff and landing but diminishes quickly when the helicopter gains elevation.
Jody Funnell, who manages the Courtyard by Marriott at 101 Washington Ave., said he applauds the arrival of BlueSky and doubts the chopper sound would disturb guests.
“For a time I managed a hotel near the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center, and we were aware of the CareFlite helicopters, but they did not seem to bother anyone,” Funnell said.
Aldous, an Iraq War veteran, will be among the helicopter pilots leading the tours in a new four-seater Robinson R44. He and his partners opened a Night Flight Concepts office in Waco in 2015, and the company is in the process of moving its headquarters from Bedford to Waco, Larsen-Iacovetta said.
The firm gave demonstrations rides to members of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce and the Waco City Council in October.