Grand Canyon Airlines
by Mark Slack
Grand Canyon Airlines is believed to be the world’s oldest and most experienced air tour company. Commencing operations in October 1927 as Scenic Airways, it was located at the Grand Canyon South Rim, which was very remote at that time. It pioneered aerial sightseeing over colorful national and tribal parks of the Southwest including Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Rainbow Bridge and Monument Valley on what Scenic Airways advertised as “The Rainbow Route.”
In 1930, Scenic Airways changed its name to Grand Canyon Airlines (GCA). With the exception of a brief period during the Great Depression and another brief period where gas rationing restricted access to aviation fuels during World War II, GCA has operated continuously since 1927. GCA actually started the Grand Canyon air tour business and built the first Grand Canyon Airport at the South Rim in 1927. GCA also built the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport a year later with the first flight from Sky Harbor in a Ford Tri-Motor on November 18, 1928. GCA then helped build the Boulder City airport (the old airport) and was one of the first airlines in Boulder flying a Travel Air 6000-A airplane.
The modern day era of GCA began in 1967 when Elling Halvorson bought an interest in the company. Mr. Halvorson came to Grand Canyon in 1963 to construct the trans-canyon pipeline to bring artesian spring water from the Grand Canyon North Rim down to the bottom of the Canyon, across the Colorado River and then back up to the South Rim to support the growing water needs of the National Park and National Park Lodges. The logistics of that construction required extensive use of helicopter operations, more than 25,000 flights in all, to move people, equipment and pipeline supplies into the Canyon. Mr. Halvorson noted that visitors to the project were awestruck by the aerial views of Grand Canyon so it was with great enthusiasm he set forth to promote Grand Canyon visitation by pioneering commercial helicopter sightseeing at the Canyon in 1965, and then by purchasing his interest in GCA in 1967. In 1972, Elling Halvorson teamed up with John Seibold, another Grand Canyon air tour pioneer and founder of Scenic Airlines operating out of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a 50 percent partner. They remained partners in GCA until Mr. Seibold sold his interests to the Halvorson family in October, 2005. Elling Halvorson remains chairman of the board of GCA today.
Shortly thereafter, GCA expanded its air tour services to include flights from Boulder City, Nevada to the Grand Canyon West Rim and South Rim, and seasonal air tour flights from Page, Arizona over Lake Powell, Rainbow Bridge and to Monument Valley. In March, 2007, Grand Canyon Airlines purchased Scenic Airlines. After nearly seventy years, the historic Scenic Rainbow Route was once again being flown.
Grand Canyon Airlines and Scenic Airlines together operate sixteen 19-passenger deHavilland Twin Otter, “Vistaliner” aircraft and several smaller Cessnas. The Vistaliner has been modified specifically by GCA for sightseeing with the installation of oversized windows for panoramic views at each passenger seat, a tour system offering narrations in 16 languages selectable at each passenger seat and air conditioning, important for passenger comfort in the desert Southwest. More than 50% of GCA’s passengers come from overseas and GCA has an extensive international sales presence to promote its Rainbow services.
GCA is very proud of its working relationship with the Grand Canyon National Park in promoting restoration of natural quiet and experiences for ground visitors. Each Vistaliner incorporates quiet aircraft technology, reducing the Vistaliner overflight audibility versus an unmodified Twin Otter by nearly two thirds. The Vistaliner is also one of the quietest commercial aircraft flying anywhere. GCA was the first air tour company to support passage of the National Parks Overflights Act of 1987 and GCA’s senior management has been deeply involved ever since then in developing noise mitigation measures like limits on flights, curfews and air tour routes that avoid sensitive Grand Canyon visitor areas, the Canyon backcountry, Colorado River rafting and Native American cultural sites/properties.
Today we are proud to say that we are headquartered in Boulder City, Nevada where we opened our new Aeroplex building at the Boulder City Airport in February, 2009. GCA and its sister company Papillon Helicopters, believe in being good citizens and we are proud to continue to support organizations such as Boulder City, Boulder City Airport, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce and we have been a supporter of St. Jude’s Ranch for Children for several years. Our total employment at GCA is 193, some of which include Boulder City residents.
Over the years, GCA estimates that it has carried more than 4 million air tour passengers. For more information please go to www.GrandCanyonAirlines.com.