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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hawaii tour operators seek changes to Obama flight restrictions

Advertiser Staff

Sightseeing operators, flight schools and other businesses met with the U.S. Secret Service tonight to discuss flight restrictions for President Obama's expected holiday visit.

A Federal Aviation Administration flight restriction notice issued yesterday shows a 10-mile no-fly zone over Windward Oçahu and the North Shore for all but commercial, cargo, law enforcement and military aircraft and air ambulances or any other aircraft with permission.

Additionally, all of Oçahu will be under flight restrictions that will require small aircraft to travel from one point to another “without loitering,” which will affect training.

The restriction runs from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.

Tour operators say the restrictions will make it hard for them to sell tours because the no-fly zone includes Sacred Falls and other attractions that tourists come to Oahu to see.

They also say similar restrictions were not in place when Obama last visited as president-elect, or when previous presidents visited O'ahu.

“If we can’t even show them a waterfall, then we don’t think we can sell our product,” said Richard Schuman, president and owner of Makani Kai Helicopters.

The operators hoped to persuade the Secret Service in the meeting to relax the restrictions or to make exceptions.

The Secret Service declined to comment, but operators said officials said they would take the suggestions into consideration.

The White House has not yet confirmed Obama's holiday visit.

But several sources say the president and his family are expected to fly to Honolulu on Dec. 23 and return to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2.

Obama, who was born in Hawai'i and graduated from Punahou School, has not been back to the Islands since being sworn in as president. He was president-elect when he and his family had a 12-day vacation at a beachfront home in Kailua last December, and still a candidate when he visited his dying grandmother in October 2008 and enjoyed a summer break and local fundraiser in August 2008.