As our tour group waited for the last passenger to arrive, I chatted with our pilot, Pete Cella. I asked him why helicopter tours are so pricey. His answer: fuel and maintenance. Those whirlybirds consume up to fifty-two gallons of expensive jet fuel per hour to stay aloft, and safety regulations require frequent, meticulous maintenance and regular replacement of costly parts. As I was about to be suspended 1,500 feet in the air, I appreciated the obsessive attention to detail. I was also reassured to find that Pete had logged over 6,000 hours of flight time.
Once Earl arrived (he’d been lost in the maze of current construction at Kahului Airport), we were given a safety and procedural overview by Sunshine’s friendly guest relations agent, LuAnne, who informed our traveling companions that they were being treated to a touchdown at the Hāna Airport, where Ryan and I would deplane to pick up our dune buggy.
Once we were onboard, seat belts secured and headsets on, Pete got the ok from ground control and we were airborne. It was a surreal sensation, gliding just feet off the tarmac, then making our way up and out of the heliport. I imagined myself a character in a sci-fi movie, hovering in my own spacecraft. In fact, I was giddy, with a grin from ear to ear, practically the entire flight.