The company’s story began in 1965, thanks to the vision of Elling Halvorson. At that time, Halvorson owned a construction company specializing in remote area, high risk projects with challenging logistics. Halvorson took pride in mitigating risks through creativity and innovation. He was in the midst of a project to construct a microwave tower for AT&T atop the 9,400 foot Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when Halvorson purchased his first helicopter, a Bell 47-G3B1.
This helicopter was used to carry workers and light construction materials more efficiently through the treacherous mountain terrain than the 1.5 mile tramway he had previously built.
The project that changed the course of Halvorson’s career involved constructing a 13.5-mile-long water pipeline from the North Rim to the South Rim of the rugged Grand Canyon. At that time, it was largest contract the National Park Service had ever awarded. Today, this project remains the largest helicopter-supported construction project ever completed in the United States with more than 25,000 flight hours. As Halvorson and his team flew colleagues and clients to work sites within the canyon, the majestic scenery was so captivating that workers began requesting chartered helicopter flights during off hours. Halvorson recognized the golden opportunity that lay in front of him and Papillon was born. The company would make history by becoming one of the first aerial sightseeing companies in the world and the first to fly the Grand Canyon.
“I don’t think there’s any one secret to success,” Elling Halvorson muses. “It is being able to see an opportunity and having the courage to act on it.” From the beginning, innovation has been one of Halvorson’s primary objectives. Shortly after forming in 1965, Halvorson acquired a fixed-wing company, Grand Canyon Airlines. The move added six Piper Cherokee 6 airplanes to the existing helicopter fleet. He was a pioneer in developing quiet technology for the helicopter tour industry and his innovation challenged the leading helicopter manufacturers to address the need for quiet aircraft. It was his vision that led to the building of Papillon’s renowned state of the art helicopter terminals and facilities located at Grand Canyon National Park Airport and later at the Las Vegas/Boulder City Municipal Airport.
He was a co-founder of the Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS) in 1986, whose members abide by strict, self-imposed regulations that go above and beyond Federal Aviation Administration standards for operational procedures, pilot training and aircraft maintenance. Furthermore, throughout the years, he has played active roles in numerous professional organizations including the Helicopter Association International (HAI), National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA); American Helicopter Society; National Parks Overflight Advisory Group (NPOAG), U.S. Travel Association and United States Air Tour Association (USATA). In January, he received the esteemed Vertical Flight Hall of Fame Award during the 12th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards.
By spring 1986, his daughter, Brenda Halvorson, joined the company. After growing up in the industry and around helicopters, the transition into Papillon was seamless, as it was always Halvorson’s goal to create a business that would stay within the family. She became President/CEO in 1993. During Brenda Halvorson’s more than 20 years as President/CEO of the Papillon Group, the companies have exponentially grown. Daily passengers have increased by 600 percent in the last two decades. The fleet of helicopters and airplanes has increased from 23 to 73 with the help of her brother's, Lon, expertise in financing. He also currently serves as executive vice president of The Papillon Group.
Over the years and under Brenda Halvorson's leadership, Papillon would continue to expand, forming partnerships with the Havasupai Nation, Hualapai Nation and Navajo Nations, as well as launching and increasing operations out of Grand Canyon National Park Airport at the South Rim, Grand Canyon West; McCarran International Airport; Boulder City Municipal Airport and Lake Powell/Page, Ariz. In addition, a utility division was formed to serve contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish and many others.
The family continued to acquire multiple brands and companies including Kenai Helicopters; Air Grand Canyon; Scenic Airlines; Grand Canyon.com and Grand Canyon Coaches. In addition to expanding the company, she served as president of the Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce and United States Travel Association; she received the Grand Canyon National Park Citizen of the Year and co-founded the first fire department in Tusayan, Ariz. She also continues to be active in TOPS and HAI.
Brenda Halvorson continues to be at the helm of the Papillon Group as the companies transition to a third generation. Her son, Geoff Edlund, joined the company as general manager of Nevada Helicopter Operations while her nephew, Jacob Tomlin, now serves as general manager of Nevada Fixed Wing Operations.
“Papillon’s 50th anniversary is a great source of pride for my family. Our legacy is our greatest asset moving forward,” says Brenda Halvorson. “Our goal is for Papillon to continue to grow through diversifying our tour experiences, being innovative within the aviation and tourism industries and protecting the environment as we remain on the forefront of advancing quiet technology.”
THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
This spring, Papillon will announce special offers and promotions that will be available in conjunction with its anniversary, as well as details regarding their golden celebrations taking place in Boulder City, Nev. on April 16; Grand Canyon National Park on April 17 and Page, Ariz. on April 18.