Helicopter lava tour businesses on the rise despite government shutdownUPDATED 6:53 PM HST Oct 11, 2013Video Transcript
The closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is hurting several local businesses that rely on park visitors, but it's also propelling sales at helicopter operators. KITV4's Justin Fujioka has more on the soaring interest for aerial lava tours. As long as the shutdown keeps the national park closed, the only way to see volcanic activity at Kilauea requires a long hike over rough lava or something that takes you over it. Choppers aren't the only things rising at Big Island's helicopter tour companies. Business is up 15 to 25 percent. David Macfarlane: "WE WERE THINKING ABOUT TAKING A FLIGHT, BUT WHEN HEARD OF THE SHUTDOWN, IT BECAME A DEFINITE TO TAKE THE FLIGHT CAUSE WE DON'T WANT TO MISS OUR CHANCE TO SEE THE VOLCANO. SO IT'S THE ONLY WAY WE COULD SEE IT WAS TO DO THIS." Frances Friedl: "THE PARK WAS LESS EXPENSIVE, BUT WE'LL TAKE WHAT WE CAN GET ... AT THIS POINT!" About a dozen of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's 150 or so employees are still working... mainly to keep visitors out. Jessica Ferracane: "PARK RANGERS HAVE TURNED AWAY ABOUT 200 CARS A DAY. YOU KNOW, GIVE OR TAKE A FEW. THERE'S BEEN DAYS WHERE IT'S BEEN A LITTLE BIT SLOWER THAN THAT. BUT, WE'VE SEEN I THINK AN UPTICK BECAUSE OF THE IRONMAN TRIATHALON ON ISLAND." An event that brings in a lot of money to the Big Island. Ferracane says normally, about 45-hundred people visit the park each day and dump 265- thousand dollars into the local economy. Stephanie Mitchell: "MOST OF THE FOLKS ARE WAITING FOR THE NATIONAL PARK TO REOPEN. SO WHAT WE'VE BEEN GETTING IS PEOPLE CALLING SAME DAY OR WALKING UP TO THE COUNTER SAME DAY BECAUSE THE NATIONAL PARK IS STILL NOT OPEN AND THEY'RE TRYING TO GET ON A FLIGHT." Meanwhile... businesses within the park, like Volcano House... are struggling... and have told more than 200 of its non-federal workers to stay home. Rob Payesko: "YOU KNOW, WHILE IT'S GIVING US A BOOST IN SALES, WE'RE ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, NOT REALLY HAPPY ABOUT IT AND WE THINK FOLKS VISITING HERE SHOULD BE ABLE TO GO IN TO SEE THE NATIONAL PARK." Because of the park's closure, visitors at the county-run lava-viewing area in Kalapana have more than doubled. Parks and recreation says it's spending more to keep it open five hours longer each day. Police have stepped up patrols in the area. Back to you.