Obama visit costly to aviation firms
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
Representatives of nearly two dozen air tour companies and flight schools yesterday said they collectively lost approximately $200,000 when their businesses were substantially restricted or shut down during President Obama's Christmas vacation here.
Company owners, newly organized as the Oahu Aviation Initiative, are asking federal officials to reimburse them for the losses they suffered during the Obama stay from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.
The group also hopes to negotiate much less severe air restrictions with U.S. Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration officials before Obama's next Hawai'i visit.
The aviation company owners said they were not informed of flight restrictions until Dec. 19, and many of them had no option but to shut down entirely during the president's visit, said Pat Magie, president of Island Seaplane Service Inc. on Lagoon Drive.
The restrictions essentially banned flights within a 30-mile radius of the house in Kailua where Obama and his family were staying.
Although the restrictions were eased somewhat to allow helicopter tours to fly to Makapu'u Point before having to turn around, Magie said his seaplane tour company was told not to fly at all and lost an estimated $24,000 over the 12-day period the president was in town.
Al Joaquin, Secret Service special agent in charge of the Asia-Pacific Region, said yesterday the agency is "very aware of the businesses' concerns" and takes them into consideration when formulating flight restrictions during presidential visits.
"This is a requirement that occurs throughout the U.S; certain safety restrictions take place all across the country," Joaquin said.
Secret Service officials did talk with aviation representatives in Hawai'i prior to Obama's most recent visit and compromised on some of the restrictions, leaving in place those the agency "felt were absolutely necessary," Joaquin said.
Magie said members of the Oahu Aviation Initiative understand that certain restrictions are necessary to protect the president, but worry about the cumulative financial impact of future visits and events such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, planned for November 2011, which Obama and more than a dozen other heads of state are expected to attend.
"A lot of businesses that had to shut down for just a day on Saturday due to the concerns about a possible tsunami were talking about the economic impact of losing a day's worth of business," Magie said. "Imagine having to shut down for a whole month."
He said the group would like to be compensated for "what was taken from us" during the Christmas 2009 visit.