LANSING — The Ithaca and Finger Lakes region has an abundance of scenic sites to see included waterfalls, gorges, lakes, college campuses, vineyards, and more. Andrew Garcia is betting people will want to gain a new perspective on these attractions from the high-in-the-sky vantage point of a helicopter.
The experienced U.S. Air Force search and rescue pilot and Ithaca College graduate has started Finger Lakes HeliTours, based at the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, to take customers up in the air for chopper tours.
Garcia, business owner and chief pilot, has flown large, high-performance helicopters and jet airplanes. He says he started Finger Lakes HeliTours because of his passion for aerospace entrepreneurship and a love of the area. The business had its grand opening on May 1.
Finger Lakes HeliTours’ leased helicopter can travel at speeds up to 130 miles per hour, Garcia tells CNYBJ. “However, the advantage of the helicopter is the ability to hover and fly slowly over scenic spots so at any point our customers get to experience — at anywhere from 30 mph to over 100 mph — a variety of vertical flight regimes unique to helicopter flight,” he says.
Garcia says he can take up to three people up in the air at a time. The business can fly over 28 classic tours (lasting 15-20 minutes each) per day plus an additional 6-12 micro tours (lasting 5 minutes each) every morning. Prices for micro tours are $99 per person and classic tours cost $199 per person, but groups of two or more pay $149 each, per the Finger Lakes HeliTours website. Premium tours, lasting 35-40 minutes, cost $398 a person, or $298 each for groups of two people or more.
Finger Lakes HeliTours’ hours of operation are Wednesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Finger Lakes HeliTours travels within a 25-mile radius of the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport. Garcia says he rents hangar space and about 150 square feet of office space from Taughannock Aviation Corp. at 66 Brown Road in Lansing. His helicopter is based in that company’s newest 20,000-square-foot hangar facility.
Garcia is currently the only employee of Finger Lakes HeliTours, but he employs a few subcontractors and is talking to other pilots about joining the venture as customer demand increases.
The company’s helicopter “is 400 hours out of overhaul so, virtually factory new. It has all the amenities and creature comforts including premium leather seating, left side sunroof, panoramic bubble windows, and air conditioning. It’s incredibly spacious and comfortable and accessible for virtually all ages,” he says.
Garcia graduated from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in communications management. After college, he was an early employee at Wayfair, an online, home furnishing retailer, and was director of customer insight & product innovation at EF Education, an international education company specializing in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs, and cultural exchange.
After that, he started three commercial skydiving companies and then later became a U.S. Air Force combat search and rescue pilot in the New York Air National Guard, according to his LinkedIn page. He currently serves part-time as an HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot in the elite 101st Rescue Squadron of the New York Air National Guard.