In June 1987, Safari Aviation, Inc., d.b.a. Safari Helicopter Tours, was incorporated in the state of Hawaii. At that time, it was operated as a Part 91 tour company. Preston Myers, founder and owner, was the original and primary pilot while his wife worked the front desk and shuttled passengers. At inception, The idea was to keep the business small as an owner-operated family business. At the time Safari Helicopters was founded the Hawaiian “flight-seeing” tour business was extremely competitive. Therefore, Safari would have to provide tour services not already offered by the well-established competition. The decision was made to fly aircraft on Kauai that were not being commonly operated; thereby establishing Safari Helicopters as a leader and innovator within the business.
Safari Helicopters made this decision by flying the six-passenger AS350 Series helicopter because of the advantages it offered tour guests: open cockpit viewing, forward seating, smoothness and air conditioning. In 1987, most small operators flew only four-passenger helicopters. Safari’s foresightedness prevailed, despite the odds against its success. Today, most helicopter tour operators fly the AS350 Series helicopter statewide, not just on Kauai.
In 1991, The first full-time pilot was hired, due to the possibility of Preston being called up during the imminent Gulf War. (He participated in the Naval Reserves, COMUSNAVCENT, at the time.) This was the beginning of the structural change of the company. He decided to certify the company as a Part 135 Operator in 1991.
Within 10 months, Hurricane Iniki devastated the Island of Kauai. Prior to the hurricane, Safari had two AS350 Series helicopters flying on the Island of Kauai. Afterwards, there was no business for one helicopter, let alone two. By the time one helicopter was repaired from the damage sustained by Hurricane Iniki, the island still had not recovered economically, so Safari leased one of its helicopters to a Big Island operator in Hilo. That particular company eventually filed for bankruptcy and Safari then expanded with an operation in Hilo.
Another Hawaii Corporation was created, Hilo Safari Air, Inc. The Hilo operation was also certified as a Part Pilot 135 Operator. By 1997, Safari Aviation, Inc. consolidated both companies under Safari Aviation, Inc. and Hilo Safari Air was dissolved. During the later part of 1998, Safari made the decision to expand to the Kona International Airport and started its operations in February 1999. At that time, Safari was also expanding into more utility work. He established its Utility Division and started working on its Part 133 External Load Certification and its OAS inspection.
After many months of reorganization, Safari was certified under Part 133 in August 1999 and OAS inspected in October 1999. The primary business in the state of Hawaii is sight-seeing tours but Safari also provides charter work, aerial photography and external load operations. The company was successful in its first US Government bid providing helicopter services to the US Navy in 2000. This required another restructure of its operations and maintenance departments in order to comply with Department of Defense (DOD) requirements.
These requirements included inspection and approval for AMC (Air Mobility Command). AMC inspections are very extensive and are directed primarily towards Part 121 airline type of operations. According to US Air Force representatives, it is extremely rare for a small Part 135 operator to pass initial inspection. However, Safari passed its very first inspection, which included implementing a Safety Program, parts and component traceability, and tracking and trending program.
By this time, Safari had added two more aircraft to its existing fleet with the purchase of a Bell 412SP and a Bell 206L3. Because of the complexities of the Bell 412, pilots received Initial and Recurrent Training through Flight Safety. The Navy contract was concluded in June of 2001.