Although county commissioners have voted to create an "aircraft restricted zone" near Crab Island and East Pass, city leaders in Destin are on their own with regulations in the Destin harbor.
"The ordinance does not apply in Destin harbor, as the harbor is within the Destin city limits, so the county has no jurisdiction," Okaloosa County Growth Management Director Elliot Kampert told The Log via email.
This restricted zone will apply to a variety of aircraft, such as hang gliders, helicopters, parasails, hot air balloons, seaplanes, glider excursions and other apparatus that could take off or land on the water. County commissioners have cited safety concerns due to the amount of heavy boat traffic as the basis for creating the ordinance.
To see video of an aerial flight over Crab Island, CLICK HERE.
Kampert said the goal was to ensure the compatibility of "recreational activities" competing to use Crab Island, East Pass and surrounding environments that are congested, especially during the summer months.
"The board of county commissioners expressed a concern over a helicopter landing in such close proximity to bathers, boaters..." he said.
Timberview Helicopters offered sightseeing tours during the summer and would take off and land from a floating helipad that rotated locations between Crab Island, East Pass and Destin harbor. The company had submitted paperwork to the Federal Aviation Administration in order to operate from the helipads.
Holiday Isle resident Guy Tadlock, who is also president of the Holiday Isle Homeowners Association, told commissioners that his group is not opposed to aerial tours, but he would like to see them restricted to the airport, not flying from a barge in the harbor.
"Our board is very concerned for the safety of our owners, and the many boaters in the area of the floating helipad," he said. "I think that if you look at this, I think you would not want to live close to this type of operation, and neither do we."
Timberview owner Justin Johnson countered that flying above the water is less dangerous than flying over the land.
"Flying over the water is one of the safest areas for an aircraft, because it gives so much opportunity for open space for an aircraft to land," he told county commissioners during their meeting Tuesday morning.
Timberview has seen its operation draw the ire of locals since they began offering tours from the Destin Commons parking lot a few years back. Since then, they have shifted their location a few times, before ultimately ending up at the Destin Airport and being grounded in August by the FAA, due to a failed safety test.After another inspection,Timberview was granted the ability to operate sightseeing tours again by the FAA on Nov. 6.
At the meeting, attendees spoke about congestion on the water, but Johnson scoffed at the idea, telling commissioners that his operation is stationary and doesn't create any wake.
"If this is about safety, the helicopter is in the air and not even touching the water," he said. "This definitely affects my business and hurts my business."
"I don't understand how I wouldn't be grandfathered in after establishing a business on the water," he added.
Local attorney Chris Sullivan, who represents the company XL Flying, told commissioners that their decision could have negative consequences for a variety of businesses.
"It's bad for business, it's bad for the public in Okaloosa County," he said.
As for Destin, city leaders have broached the subject on a number of occasions during council meetings. City staff is currently putting together a draft ordinance that will come before city leaders in the near future.