Heliport is taking off on Capital; Operators promise attention to safety as the facility begins to ramp up flights

RALEIGH -- Outside of the occasional television news helicopter hovering over a car accident, the skies above Capital Boulevard tend to be fairly free of aviation traffic.

That should change beginning next month, when a helicopter service and flight training academy ramp up operations on a nine-acre site off Capital near Interstate 440.

Located next to Murphy Motor Co., a used car dealership, Raleigh Heliport LLC is targeting sightseers, business executives and anyone else with a need to step inside a helicopter.

While the heliport's location along a major thoroughfare has worried some residents, both the city and the Federal Aviation Administration have given the business approval to operate.

Scott Moore, one of Raleigh Heliport's owners, said that charter flights will start at $450 an hour. The company also plans to offer helicopter storage and refueling services to helicopter owners.

Also operating at the site will be Raleigh Heliport's anchor tenant, Silver State Helicopters, a Las Vegas-based company that will operate a flight training academy on the property. For $69,900, a person can learn how to become a commercial helicopter pilot, a process that can take anywhere from 9 to 18 months. A typical Silver State class includes 10 to 15 people.

Linda Walker, general manager of Silver State's Raleigh office, said the Capital Boulevard location is the company's 37th and first in North Carolina. Walker said surrounding residents and businesses shouldn't be worried that the heliport will be a home base for people learning to fly.

Walker said the academy requires students to spend at least 10 hours in a flight simulator, plus another 40 to 65 hours flying with an experienced pilot before they can receive a private rating, which is the first level of certification required to fly a helicopter.

"Brand new students are not going to be flying in and out of here," she said.

Walker also said the helicopters would simply land and take off from the Capital Boulevard heliport, and use other airfields to do training maneuvers.

"This is definitely not a practice area," she said.

Moore said his group invested about $500,000 renovating office buildings and repaving the area where helicopters will land.

When Raleigh's Board of Adjustment granted Raleigh Heliport a special use permit to operate, it limited the company's hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Some residents have raised concerns about the noise levels around the heliport. Raleigh's noise ordinance calls for a maximum of 70 decibels during the day.

Dawn LaSure, who lives in a townhouse off Atlantic Avenue near the heliport, said she has heard the faint sound of helicopters landing and taking off since Raleigh Heliport opened. But LaSure said those sounds just blend in with all the other noise coming from passing trains, trucks and news helicopters over the Beltline.

"To me, it's not an unusual sound," LaSure said.

Moore is hoping the heliport's close proximity to downtown Raleigh will make it attractive to corporate clients who need to get to Raleigh-Durham International Airport quickly. The company will also offer service to Charlotte and Wrightsville Beach, as well as local sightseeing trips on the weekends.

Raleigh Heliport and Silver State could eventually compete for business, as Walker said her company hopes to expand its services beyond the training academy.

Both companies are betting that Raleigh's growth and increasing affluence will create a strong need for private helicopter service. Moore even plans to offer a corresponding car service called Luxury Butler that will escort helicopter riders to their destinations in limousines and high-end sedans.