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Sheriff tries to ground Uber chopper ferrying Sundance Film Festival passengers

Published January 24, 2016 9:14 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez was not happy that Uber's new, temporary helicopter service to the Sundance Film Festival used a makeshift landing zone in a semiresidential area — without permits.

He ordered the helicopters for both Uber and Blade Helicopter Services grounded on Friday at 3 p.m. However, 3rd District Judge Kara Pettit later said that prosecutors didn't have enough evidence that Uber helicopters violated county zoning rules, but she'll hear more on Monday, according to The Associated Press.

Pettit's continuation of the case should not affect the restraining order in the meantime, Martinez said Friday evening. However, Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said the helicopters will continue running, weather permitting.

"There was no permit for us to apply for," Patterson said.

A hearing is also scheduled regarding a separate restraining order against Blade for 10:30 a.m. Monday.

"I gave them a direct order that they are no longer to land," Martinez said earlier. "Their operations are to cease immediately and indefinitely." He warned that if any more choppers come, "the operator would be subject to arrest and the vehicle impounded."

He added, "We have not had any more air operations occur" after he conveyed his order to officials both at Uber and Blade Helicopter Services.

Martinez said county officials and neighbors complained that helicopters were landing in what he described as a semiresidential area on Old Ranch Road in unincorporated Snyderville, in private fields behind a residence.

"It was pretty insulting," Martinez said.

"At no point did Uber or Blade Services get a permit to land their helicopters in Summit County. They were pretty contemptuous about the proper process," Martinez said. "They just decided that they did not need the proper permits."

An online commenter to an earlier Tribune story about Uber's helicopter service wrote, "Area neighbors have been complaining about the all-hours noise as choppers are constantly landing in what is normally a quiet neighborhood."

Martinez said the Federal Aviation Administration was contacted about the situation. "We were looking at all avenues" of whether Uber violated any law, and how to stop the landings.

Finally, Martinez said the county figured that Uber violated Summit County Code 10-3-1, which requires obtaining permits before beginning any sort of development in the Snyderville Basin.

"We've been trying to work with them, trying to get them to work through the proper process," Martinez said. "They have failed that process, and negotiations just finally ran out."

Uber had issued a statement earlier Friday indicating that it thought it had worked out problems with the county.

That earlier statement by Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said, "Thanks to the county's proactive outreach, we have developed an alternative landing site for UberCHOPPER that serves riders and accommodates residents. Uber, Air Resources and A^3 by Airbus thank the Summit County Sheriff's Office and county manager for their willingness to work with us to come to a solution."

Uber officials previously had excitedly talked about the UberCHOPPER service between Salt Lake City International Airport and Park City.

"We're seeing tremendous interest," Patterson said Thursday, the first day of what had been scheduled to be four days of service.

"We have two helicopters running," she added. "One takes off as another comes back."

One-way fare was $200 per seat during the day, and $300 a night. Uber offered $50 off those prices for people who pre-booked. The fare included car rides to the passengers' hotels or final destinations.

Patterson said Uber had a healthy number of on-demand requests from people who landed at the airport and "instead of requesting a car, they took a chopper" using Uber's app and clicking the chopper option.

She said Uber has offered its chopper service at a few other major events and places nationwide on a temporary basis — including from New York City to the Hamptons, From Los Angeles to the Coachella music festival and in Las Vegas to hotels.

Uber is best known for providing a smartphone app to connect riders with nearby drivers who use their own cars.

Riders can see how others have rated the driver, what they will charge and when they will arrive. Drivers, in turn, can see how colleagues have rated the rider. All payments are made via its online app.

Such ride-hailing companies keep 20 percent of each fare, but maintain that the driver is the one providing the service. Reporter Michael McFall contributed to this story.






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