Editorial: Downtown heliport is an asset that may prove worth keeping

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It’s understandable that the Indianapolis Airport Authority started a process two years ago to decommission the Indianapolis Downtown Heliport. As Mickey Shuey reports in a page 1A story today, the heliport’s usage dropped 50% from 2010 to 2019, and it cost more than $735,470 to operate in 2022.

And it makes sense as well that city officials have seen the 4.9-acre property at 51 S. New Jersey St. as an opportunity for development, especially when combined with what the city sees as other nearby underused parcels.

But we support the Hogsett administration’s decision—which IBJ first reported last week—to take another look at the heliport’s future.

Mark Bode, a city spokesman, told IBJ that an Indianapolis Airport Authority analysis more than a year ago led that agency to determine maintaining the heliport as a public entity was not in its financial best interest. “While we respect that conclusion,” Bode said in a statement, “the city is undertaking its own analysis of the benefits and challenges presented by continued downtown heliport operations, generally.”

The city said it will hire consultants and talk with those who have an interest in the heliport with the goal of receiving “recommendations well before any final decision on the downtown heliport is made by the Indianapolis Airport Authority.”

We applaud the effort given recent questions about whether the heliport could become a key asset again.

At the moment, those questions are being raised at least in part by individuals and organizations with a business interest in having a downtown heliport. In particular, companies and organizations that want to fly helicopters in and out of downtown for special events or increase the number of charter flights downtown are opposing the heliport’s closure.

But the Indiana Department of Transportation has also weighed in, saying current and expected advancements in aviation—which include highly automated aircraft operating at low altitudes and electric aircraft that take off and land vertically (called eVTOLs)—will make the heliport more valuable in the future.

“The future is bright for aviation in Indiana including concepts such as Urban Air Mobility and eVTOL operations,” INDOT wrote in a letter opposing the closure. “This facility has potential in this space over the next few years as research develops.”

Not everyone thinks urban air taxis will be the next big thing. And we understand that the idea of urban air traffic downtown can sound a bit more like “The Jetsons” than reality.

But experts in the field say the downtown heliport is just the kind of property other cities will be trying to create as this technology matures. Daniel Mojica, executive director of the privately operated Vertiport Chicago, told IBJ it doesn’t make sense for any city “to step on their own feet, on their own toes, and destroy something that hundreds of cities within the next few years will be fighting to build and help push innovation forward.”

We urge the city to take more time to find out whether Mojica is right. The city might be unexpectedly well-positioned for the future of aviation, and that’s something we don’t want to mess up.•


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