Anti-terrorist rule may cost helicopter company thousands in business

A Homeland Security regulation intended to frustrate terrorists may cost a Las Vegas helicopter company thousands of dollars in business this weekend.

Representatives of Maverick Helicopters, which provides flights to and from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, say it’s coming down to the wire for the company to receive a waiver from federal regulations that would prohibit it from flying to the track immediately before and after Sunday’s NASCAR race.

A notice to airmen issued in October restricts pilots from flying near stadiums within an hour of the start of an event through an hour after the event ends. It’s an effort to prevent a terrorist from killing or injuring thousands of people packed into a stadium for a sporting event.

Maverick, which on Thursday announced the renewal of a long-term agreement to be the exclusive helicopter transportation provider for the track, is scheduled to fly hundreds of passengers to and from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt 400 race.

The company was notified about a month ago that an amended regulation approved Oct. 27 would prohibit the company from flying to a heliport just south of the track an hour before the start of the race and for an hour after the race ends.

The company notified passengers of the potential problem, which led to several canceled reservations.

“It won’t affect track personnel that need to arrive early because we can fly up to an hour before the start of the race,” said Bryan Kroten, Maverick’s vice president of marketing. “But a lot of our customers who wanted to be able to fly out immediately after the race would be inconvenienced because the regulation prevents us from flying until one hour after the race ends.”

Maverick has submitted a request for a waiver and enlisted the help of members of Nevada’s congressional delegation to quicken the review of the request.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., a member of the Aviation Subcommittee, said she expects Maverick to have no problem securing the waiver.

“We’re committed to ensuring the highest level of safety for air travel,” Titus said. “Our office has offered to assist Maverick Helicopters with any issues that may arise with the waiver process.”

But with the race days away, it’s appearing that it could be an eleventh hour reprieve.

The Federal Aviation Administration notice to airmen outlined a Transportation Security Administration policy regarding flights near stadiums with 30,000 or more people in attendance.

The notice clearly identifies the race as an event under the regulation. The notice “applies to NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car and Champ Series races excluding qualifying and pre-race events. Flights conducted for operational purposes of any event, stadium or venue and broadcast coverage for the broadcast right holder are authorized with an approved airspace waiver.”

Maverick has provided transportation to track personnel and VIPs since the first NASCAR race at the Las Vegas track in 1998. Rides to and from the track are provided to the public for $500 round-trip.

The company flies a fleet of seven-passenger EC130 helicopters.

Maverick uses up to 24 helicopters to shuttle passengers from McCarran International Airport to the track, a flight that takes about 10 minutes and avoids traffic jams on Interstate 15 and Las Vegas Boulevard.

Kroten said Maverick pilots generally fly a well-timed circular pattern of helicopters that land at the heliport, unload passengers in minutes, then fly back to McCarran.

If Maverick doesn’t get the waiver on time, the company would lose thousands of dollars in fares for those hoping to fly to the track less than an hour before the green flag drops. As it is, a number of customers canceled because they don’t want to have to wait for an hour to leave after the race ends.

Kroten didn’t disclose how many passengers are scheduled to fly or how many canceled, but he said it’s about 10 percent of those with reservations.

While Maverick officials are growing nervous about getting their waiver, which they expect to get by today, they did have good news about their contract extension.

According to a release issued by the company and the speedway, Maverick will manage the heliport and work with the speedway on its events.

“We have had a long-standing relationship with Maverick Helicopters and we’re excited to see that relationship continue to grow for many more years,” Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell said. “Maverick Helicopters provides exceptional service to all of our guests who choose to fly into the speedway whether it be for NASCAR, Electric Daisy Carnival or our many corporate events throughout the year.”

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.

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