A group of entrepreneurs are bringing a new helicopter to the island. The newest and in many respects most feasible entry to the helicopter business on Roatan is a Robinson R-44 Clipper 1, currently stationed at Parrot Tree Plantation. The silver machine also has landing spots in West Bay and in Las Palmas.
The Robinson helicopter, capable of landing on water in emergencies, is owned by Aerocentro, a company with a fleet of helicopters in Guatemala, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and now Roatan. “So far we had to bring a helicopter from Tegucigalpa to do this,” says about the operation Jose Antonio Muñoz, the manager of Aerocentro Roatan.
The helicopter is piloted by Derek Whitmore, 33, an energetic American with five years of flying experience. “I used to be a junior Olympic skier, then a motocross rider, so this was the next best thing,” says Whitmore about his helicopter flying.
The Robinson helicopter can fly clients on charters and, according to Whitmore, can fly a “medivac” as long as the person “doesn’t need to lie down completely.” The back seats in the helicopter are the size of a small sedan, with windows offering an amazing vantage point for sightseeing. The four-person helicopter typically flies at 500 feet, makes tight turns and hovers, all of which make the 15-minute flight exhilarating at $75 per person.
Previous ambitions for using helicopters to provide medical evacuation services on Roatan have ended in failure. An Australian owner of a helicopter lost money as the machine’s pilot ran off the island with expensive parts. The island was left with a sad carcass of the helicopter sitting in the back of Roatan Electric Company’s yard.
RECO donated the abandoned helicopter to a Los Fuertes mechanic’s shop, where the engine-less beast sat for several months in 2011. The mechanics used a water supply truck to pull the helicopter from RECO’s back yard to Los Fuertes, where it was going to be cut for scrap metal.
While the Roatan municipality saw the red helicopter as a hazard blocking an access road in Los Fuertes, the Sky Canopy people saw an opportunity and purchased the helicopter for around $3,000. Now the helicopter is to serve as a coffee shop for tourists awaiting their turn to head down a metal cable of the zip line.
The Bay Islands attracts plenty of people with great ideas and some cash. The island is dotted with examples of such projects that sometimes go awry: unfinished developments, abandoned homes, planes, boats and, since spring 2011, a bright red helicopter. As the popular saying goes: “Want to become a millionaire on Roatan? Bring two million and go into business. You are likely to be left with one million.” [/private]