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Heliport facility set for approval

Plans for a heliport that aviation experts say would be the world’s largest are moving closer to liftoff despite the sinking economy.

Clark County commissioners are expected Tuesday to approve a letter of intent for leasing space at the proposed heliport to a company that offers Grand Canyon helicopter tours.

Maverick Helicopters would be the first tenant at the 229-acre Sloan heliport, which will cost an estimated $115 million in the initial phase. Two more tour operators could join Maverick in occupying 80 to 110 helipads.

That would make the heliport the biggest on the planet, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

However, McCarran International Airport officials are still talking with prospective tenants, so it’s uncertain whether 80 helipads will materialize, said Chris Jones, airport spokesman.

“The number of helipads needed in the first phase will be determined by the tour companies that use the heliport,” Jones said in a written statement. “The Department of Aviation is not setting out to build anything larger or more elaborate than demand would warrant.”

The proposed letter of intent with Maverick Helicopters is on the consent agenda, which means the commission can approve it with no discussion.

Company representative John Buch couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. Last year, Buch said Maverick expanded its fleet to 50 helicopters in anticipation of the new heliport and must store some of the aircraft at sites near the Grand Canyon.

Maverick must now wait longer.

Airport officials had aimed to finish the first phase in 2010 but now predict it won’t be done until at least mid-2011.

The project cleared a significant hurdle recently when the FAA signed off on the environmental assessment, Jones said. The Bureau of Land Management can now transfer the property to the county.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District had to wait until the environmental report was finished before it could begin designing the site’s pump station and water lines, said J.C. Davis, district spokesman.

The district will break ground next year and have the water system in place in 2011, Davis added.

Randall Walker, the airport director, has stated that the struggling economy has hardly diminished helicopter tours or the need for the heliport.

An average of 99 helicopters fly out of McCarran daily, just six fewer than in the 2005 peak, even though a major helicopter tour company recently moved to Boulder City, Walker said.

The heliport will clear airport space for jetliners to bring much-needed tourists to the valley and will move helicopters away from neighborhoods, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said.

“I think we need a place to put the helicopters, and McCarran is a busy airport,” Sisolak said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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