Uber Will Ground Chopper Flights at Utah’s Sundance Film Festival

January 26, 2016

A Utah county reached an agreement over the weekend with ridesharing company Uber to stop operating helicopter flights at the Sundance Film Festival.

Summit County said helicopter companies agreed to cease operating in connection with the festival. The companies have also agreed not to conduct the flights without getting the required land use approval.

County spokeswoman Katie Mullaly said she did not know if Uber or the helicopter companies might be able to conduct flights in the area in the future.

“Going forward, we’ll be addressing this issue,” Mullaly said. “Whether that means it’s possible or not, I don’t know.”

Uber representatives confirmed the company is dropping the helicopter service. The company had said Friday that it would resume flights to Park City despite a cease-and-desist order from a Utah sheriff.

Sheriff Justin Martinez said that he would consider ticketing or arresting pilots because the companies didn’t get the proper permits to land in a field not far from homes in the mountain town.

uber-logo-vertical-darkUber and the helicopter companies say they tried to work with local authorities, but they argued that zoning laws don’t apply to air travel and there was no permit to apply for.

Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson could not say if the company planned to talk with the county about offering chopper rides at the festival in the future.

“As far as future conversations, we just want to make the remainder of the festival go as well as possible in terms of our partnership with Sundance,” Patterson said.

A judge decided that prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence for a restraining order. She was set to take up the case again Monday, after Uber had planned to end the service. Mullaly said she believes that case will now be dropped.

On Thursday, Uber began offering to ferry visitors by helicopter about 40 miles from the Salt Lake City airport to the Robert Redford-founded festival in Park City. The company was charging $200 one-way during the day and $300 at night, with lower prices for customers who book ahead.

Summit County moved to block the choppers the next day, after getting hundreds of complaints about the landings in a rural field beloved by sandhill cranes not far from homes, prosecutor Robert Hilder said.

While some people in Summit County have private aircraft they land within the county occasionally, the Uber flights are commercial and bring more health and safety concerns, from noise to accessibility if there’s an accident, according to Hilder. Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have run into regulatory troubles before, but it’s less common with the fledgling Uber Chopper service.

“This is an interesting case. It deals with a lot that’s happened in the world and happened very quickly,” Hilder said. “You essentially have a revolution in transportation.”

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