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So, there was an oil spill this summer, close to us, close to home. One could argue that it effected all of us one way or another. Many are up in arms about it, many just want people to stop talking about it. Some are making claims to recover losses, some are making claims to make money, some are making legitimate claims and getting a run-around. Did the BP Effect, effect everyone? Panhandle Helicopter didn’t seem to be concerned with the “catastrophe” that had droves of people and businesses down over the summer. He had record breaking months almost every month this year, and was down, just one month, less than 7%.
“Earl, who’s this Earl people keep asking about,” JR Hott, one of the owners of Panhandle Helicopter, was joking about, “People kept asking if we’d seen this fellow named Earl on the beach.” Hott recounted people continually calling asking if they’d seen oil on the beach while they were on their flight tours. “Have you seen Earl on the beach? Has Earl come to the beach yet?” Obviously, Hott was jokingly substituting the name ‘Earl’ for ‘oil’.
Panhandle Helicopter is a helicopter tours company, located right off of Front Beach Road, next to Pier Park. If you’ve ever been to Pier Park and seen or heard the yellow helicopter flying overhead, chances are, that’s JR. Him and his brother own the outfit, but JR and another pilot operate the business on the ground. Some days during the summer, they’ll run flights back to back, never shutting the engine down from the time they open to the time they close, just before sundown. But, at the end of the day, there are only so many tours one helicopter can take.
Their limited availability is probably the biggest reason the oil spill didn’t seem to effect them this summer. Hott remarked that had the oil spill not happened, he felt sure that his business would have done better over the summer, but he was up 20 to 30% almost every month this year so far, so he’s not complaining.
The interesting thing is that I felt sure that he was going to tell me of all the business he received as a direct result of the oil spill. We at PCBDaily took numerous rides up and down the beach looking for oil, shooting reassuring video showing none. I just knew he was going to tell me that condo owners, resort operators, local businesses would do the same. Nope, Hott said he got two jobs all summer that were directly related to the oil spill. One was a chartered trip to Pensacola and the other was a Destin resort operator that wanted to take a ride to be sure they could tel their guests no oil was in sight.
Hott admitted that at one point, oil was reported to be within 7 miles of our shores, but in his daily trips up in the air, with his visibility extended for miles off-shore, he never saw any slicks, tarmat or tarball fields or whispy, foamy sheen floating on the surface. “June grass and algae was real bad this year, worse than I remember,” Hott recalled after recounting all the riders comments on the huge areas of June Grass floating on the surface. On a couple rides I took, I saw the very same material, June Grass, which looked very similar to the pictures of oil and tar balls that I had seen on the news. Many attributed the increase in algae and June Grass to the oil spill, but I don’t see the connection.
All in all, Panhandle Helicopter wasn’t concerned with the oil spill. They never seemed to get caught up in the hype, and they still had customers over the summer that were as interested in their services as ever. Would they have done better this year had the oil spill not occurred? Almost certainly, but they still have plans for expansion and will be growing in the future.Print Story