When most people visit the Big Island, if they want to take an aerial tour they go to Blue Hawaiian or some other helicopter tour operator. And while any aerial tour over Hawaii provides an unforgettable experience, there is a way to not only save money, but to get an even more unforgettable experience. That's where Tropicbird Flight Service comes in.
They have a few different small aircraft perfect for 2 or 3 people (plus the pilot). So - what are the advantages vs a helicopter ride you're asking? Well, take it from someone who has his pilot's license - helicopters are FAR more expensive to operate than a plane. Realistically, if 2 or 3 people are planning on going on the flight - you can save up to 50% vs a helicopter tour. Basically it costs (at the time of this review) between $228 and $265 per flight hour. It takes about 3 hours (or a little less) to completely circle the Big Island.
Figure around $700-800. That's less than the cost it takes for 2 people to take a helicopter ride that doesn't even go all the way around the island.
If you're a pilot like me this is also a great way to build flying time, and if you're not, no worries, the flight instructors are fantastic and will even let you take the flight controls! (Under their close supervision of course :) ) This has the added adventure as this can be a self directed tour of sorts. Want to go back and see something again? No problem! Want to get a closer look at this or that? No problem. You're not tied to some tour operators schedule and course because for all intents and purposes - you've chartered the plane!
Now - on to the real review portion.
Tropicbird Flight Service Operation - They have a small building on the airport grounds where you do the initial flight prep (check the weather and other pertinent information) They have a plethora of aviation related decorations/models around the office which is actually pretty cool (if you're an aviation nerd like me).
The Aircraft - When I was there I flew only in their Cessna 182 Skylane. The aircraft itself looked like it was well maintained and well cared for. The interior was clean and fairly spacious even for a big guy like me (6 foot tall // 290 lbs).
The Guides/Flight Instructors - I flew with a couple of their CFI (Certified Flight Instructors) Mike and Jon. Both of them were extremely knowledgeable, friendly and were experts at flying in the islands. Their knowledge of the islands, the weather patterns and even the history of the islands was astounding. At the time, I had just gotten my pilot's certificate/license and were really great at guiding me through getting my high performance endorsement and offering me tips and tricks that I still use to this day. I can't say enough about these guys!
Whether you're a visiting pilot or just on vacation looking to take a tour - check these guys out!