Sundance Helicopters acquisition pays off with rising tourism

Denver-based Air Methods took a major departure from its core business model when it acquired Sundance Helicopters of Las Vegas for $44 million on the last day of 2012.

The global leader in air medical transport made its first foray into air tourism when it bought the 28-year-old company that flies 16 different Grand Canyon tours with its fleet of 25 aircraft.

Air Methods made major investments in Las Vegas to separate itself from the rest of the air tour pack.

In March, the company announced that it was converting its entire fleet to the Airbus Industries-manufactured Eurocopter EC130 T2, considered the gold standard for corporate helicopters. It’s the quietest helicopter of its class and exceeds environmental noise standards for the airspace over Grand Canyon National Park.

At the same time, the company unveiled a new corporate logo and aircraft color schemes of chrome, gold and silver.

Two months after the helicopter deal, the company opened its refurbished 13,000-square-foot terminal on the west side of McCarran International Airport with a $2.5 million, 2,000-square-foot expansion.

So far, the investments have paid off. The company’s tour numbers are up by 10 percent from the previous year. McCarran officials said Sundance carried 190,870 passengers in 2013.

On Tuesday, Sundance will debut its new sundancehelicopters.com website. Company officials are convinced the revamped site raises the bar for air tour sales and marketing with its use videos and photography, some of which were shot by Sundance CEO Bob Engelbrecht.

The site was produced by Denver-based Agency Zero.

“We really wanted to put together an immersive website, something that people could feel the experience as well as see it,” said Jeremy Irwin, chief creative officer of Agency Zero. “We wanted to show an emotional side of being there in the canyon.”

From the start of the three-minute video montage that serves as welcome to an easy-to-navigate window that enables viewers to choose their tour with the help of 10- to 15-second video vignettes, the site is unlike any airtour website in the market.

Windows on tour screens show photographs and locator maps of every tour option. Menus enable customers to choose the experiences they want to have and guide them to the tour that includes those experiences.

The site also emphasizes the company’s safety record, showcases the employees, provides for customer feedback and displays career opportunities with the company.

“We pride ourselves in our variety,” Engelbrecht said. “In addition to our multiple Grand Canyon tours, we have sunset tours and rides above the Strip. We also transport wedding parties for ceremonies at Valley of Fire (State Park).”

Sundance has a 25-year agreement with the Hualapai Indian Tribe of northwestern Arizona and partners with it on trips to Grand Canyon West, the tribe’s Grand Canyon Skywalk attraction, raft trips on the Colorado River and picnic flights within the canyon’s walls.

The company also holds several government contracts, works with film producers for aerial shots of Las Vegas.

Sundance has transported 4 million passengers to the Grand Canyon in its history, has 175 employees and has a $50 million annual economic impact on Southern Nevada.

Encouraged with its successful leap into air tours, publicly traded Air Methods acquired Blue Hawaiian Helicopters in late 2013.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.