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Southern Nevada’s Papillon has served tourists for more than 40 years.
Photo: Tomas Muscionico (all)
Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters’ story begins in 1965. Elling Halvorson, now Papillon’s Chairman of the Board, owned a construction company at the time. The task at hand was to lay a water pipeline across the Grand Canyon to the South Rim. Halvorson used helicopters to lower pipe into the canyon—more than a mile deep.
Workers and guests flew in daily to view the project. With such stunning scenery, requests poured in for chartered helicopter flights, and a family legacy was born. Over the next four decades, Papillon acquired a number of tour companies, including Grand Canyon Airlines/Scenic Airlines—the oldest air tour company in the country (1929); Kenai Helicopters; and Grand Canyon Coaches.
Twelve years ago, the Halvorson family moved the majority of the company to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport to better serve their customers. “Many of our customers come from Las Vegas. We’ve been successful and are very proud to be here,” Halvorson says.
Halvorson says Papillon is the largest air tour operator in the state. In addition to sightseeing aircraft, the family owns utility aircraft. “We’re the helicopter operator for Grand Canyon National Park,” he says. “We provide helicopters for the National Park Search and Rescue and for firefighting.”
Additionally, Papillon’s fleet is available for charter operations such as logging, aerial photography for the film industry, and construction support for truss lifts and placing heavy equipment on rooftops. Papillon’s corporate accounting office is in Kirkland, Washington. The company also operates out of small airports in Arizona, but Southern Nevada is effectively home. “Our largest operation is in Nevada,” Halvorson says. “We have 15 helicopters and 16 Twin Otter aircraft in Boulder City and a smaller fleet at McCarran.”
The Halvorsons opened the Boulder City Aerocenter in March because of congestion at McCarran. “We’ve operated our own facilities for [nearly] 45 years,” he says. “It’s much more convenient to operate out of a small airport. Besides, Boulder City is closer to the Grand Canyon, so we’re headed in the right direction,” he says with a chuckle.
The company will continue to operate a small fleet at McCarran due to the difference in clientele. “The McCarran operation is a little more high [end],” he says. “We pick up our customers in a limousine, the food package is upgraded, and there we have the latest models of aircraft. We make it a little more special at McCarran and a little more affordable at Boulder City.”
Papillon offers a wide variety of adventures. Tours include landing on the canyon floor at one of three areas arranged through an agreement between Papillon and the local Hualapai. Guests can also choose from guided tours on horseback, hiking, picnics, river rafting, and overnight excursions. Companies such as IBM and Allstate Insurance have taken advantage of Papillon’s special group activities. Customized tour options include exotic picnic locations, sunrise breakfast flights, and golf packages. And in the grand tradition of Las Vegas weddings, Papillon offers unique wedding packages.
Tours aren’t limited to helicopters. Papillon owns a fleet of airplanes and buses that transport tourists from Las Vegas to the canyon via Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, Boulder City, and various locations in Arizona.
In a state where tourism is king, the Halvorson family plays an integral part. Halvorson’s daughter, Brenda, oversees the company’s operations from her Las Vegas office. Halvorson’s son, Lon, arranged financing for the new Boulder City terminal, and his son Kent’s construction company, E. Kent Halvorson, Inc., served as general contractor. Elling designed and oversaw construction of the facility. “This is a family business,” he says. “We take everything to the highest level we can. Everything we do we try to do first class.
Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters
3900 Paradise Rd., Ste. 185, Las Vegas