1. Home
  3. Redtail Air

Redtail Air


Tour operator flies adventure seekers out of CNY to national parks around the Moab UT area.

By Jay Chandler
Contributing writer

Kodiak 100 flies passengers over the breathtaking scenery of Canyonland. Redtail Air’s Kodiaks can acommodate up to 9 passengers.

With the world slowly getting back to the “pre-pandemic normal,” participative escapes or adventure vacations are more popular than ever. There still remains the slow and relaxing, then the step up to theme parks’ extreme rides, and then there are adventurous vacationers wanting to get out there and live. Moab UT is a mecca for “getting out there,” with some 107 outfitters competing for these thrill-seekers’ custom, according to Tripadvisor, including Redtail Air at CNY (Canyonlands, Moab UT).

The beginning

In 1978, Redtail Air started air tours with 1 pilot and 1 airplane. Today it still serves adventurers visiting southeastern Utah with air tours, river shuttles, and FBO services. Redtail Air is the only air operator based in Moab to hold permits issued by FAA and the National Park Service to fly directly above Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, as well as Monument Valley.

Redtail Jet Center, a full service FBO, operates year-round, with the peak air tour season running from April to October. Redtail Air is the air tour side of the operation, providing river shuttles in piston and turbine airplanes.

Adventurers board a Redtail Kodiak 100 at CNY.

As an old Vermonter expression goes, “You can’t get there from here.” And so it goes in Moab. Roads don’t go in a straight line here, and air shuttles not only take customers directly to the outfitter handoff, but also provide stunning views of the area the vacationer expects to experience, whether it be by off-roading, horseback riding, hiking, or white water rafting down the Colorado and Green Rivers.

In addition to the FBO and air tour operation, flight training remains active at CNY, along with FAA-certified charter service to common domestic airline hubs, which saves hours over land transportation.

The company is often asked whether it was named after the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, and the answer is no. The company is named for the red-tailed hawk – a large bird of prey commonly found throughout the region.

Kodiak aircraft have remarkable short takeoff and landing capabilities and are fitted with large windows, perfect for sightseeing.


With a field elevation of 4579 ft, and density altitude frequently reaching 9000 ft in the summer, Redtail Director of Operations Dan Wheeler keeps aircraft performance on everyone’s mind.

Redtail operates 2 Kodiak 100 turboprops, 3 Cessna 207s, 2 GippsAero GA8 Airvans, a Cessna Skyhawk SP. Helicopter tours are also available in a Robinson R44 operated by Pinnacle Helicopters. Normally, there are 2 or 3 year-round pilots, including the helicopter pilot. During the summer, however, the pilot pool swells to 8–10.

All the aircraft remain busy, with each pilot averaging 350 hours per year. Redtail works closely with white water outfitters, delivering the customers directly to the rafter’s starting point.

A normal rafting trip includes challenging white water rafting daily, followed by a camping experience next to the river. The 4- or 5-day trips can be exhilarating but exhausting, and the weary rafters stare out the aircraft windows in awe as they enjoy their 50-minute return flight, instead of a 5-hour van ride.

Mesmerizing views of Green River from the air allow the rafters to enjoy their tour from above.

Redtail Air partners with several outfitters, dropping off and picking up clients who mountain bike, ride horseback, off-road, climb mountains, or hike.

For the less adventurous, there still remains a relaxing air tour around the parks in the Robinson R44 or any of the Redtail planes, depending on group size. Fortunately, there is never a shortage of unbelievable beauty by air in Moab.

Flight crews

Even as US airline pilot hiring begins to slow, Chief Pilot Ethan Johnson says they have no shortage of pilot applicants. Although he acknowledges that air tour pilots are starting out on the bottom rung of their pilot careers, his pilots enjoy the flying because of the scenery and interaction with the clients.

Sunset tours around the park’s boundary provide majestic memories.

Whenever possible, Johnson prefers to hire local pilots who are familiar with the rich history and beauty of the area. Many of the pilots have been guides for the local outfitters, learned to fly part-time, and eventually accumulated enough hours to work at Redtail.

For the most part, successful pilots at Redtail love the outdoors and are nature enthusiasts themselves. In addition to flying the aircraft, pilots are tour guides, pointing out local scenery and attractions.

R44 Pilot Michael Fowler flies about 1/3 of the air tours. His air tour experience started with flying along the beaches of Pensacola FL, and he hopes to fly for an EMS operator or firefighting company one day.

Other piloting skills Redtail Air holds in high regard is previous mountain and short field flying. Johnson says the longevity for pilots looking to move up the aviation ladder normally spans 2 or 3 years before they move on to their next experience.

Passengers receive a safety briefing before boarding the Pinnacle Helicopters Robinson R44.

Safety first

To ensure safe operations and aircraft accountability, Redtail uses a detailed aircraft dispatch system. Most of the destinations are the same, and, through experience, the duration of each leg is well known.

To facilitate communication between flightcrews and Redtail Air, a Garmin inReach satellite communicator system is assigned to each aircraft or pilot.

This allows the pilot to notify Redtail if there are delays, maintenance issues, or safety concerns. In addition to the Garmin inReach, accident plans include actions required for aircraft that are 30 minutes or 1 hour past expected times.

Since the Part 135 certificate is VFR-only, Redtail Air can hire 500-hour pilots for the charter flights, which helps enlarge the pool of pilot respondents. Once IFR operations are approved by FAA, Redtail Air’s minimum hour requirement for an IFR PIC will be 1200 hours.

Pilots perform additional duties of tour guide and fellow nature enthusiasts.


At present, Redtail Air performs most of its maintenance in-house and obtains Kodiak parts from Daher’s Idaho facility. DOM Willy Robinet reports excellent parts availability from Daher, as well as from Textron for its Cessna fleet.

However, as with all aviation concerns, completion times for engine maintenance events,  such as overhauls, continue to be lengthy, very difficult to schedule, and pricey.

Airvan parts, on the other hand, are tougher than normal to source because they ship from Australia. Overall, however, the maintenance department keeps a high availability rate, even with each aircraft flying between 300 and 600 hours annually.

Robinet says they had 3 A&P mechanics last year, but are down to 2 now. Due to the smaller staff, the Kodiak annuals are performed at Turbo Air in Boise ID, with the remaining work done at Redtail Air facilities.

The Cessna 207 is a versatile single-engine aircraft that can comfortably accommodate 7 pax. Its unique design allows it to operate from a variety of surfaces, including short, unpaved airstrips and even well-maintained gravel roads.

Qualified A&P technicians continue to test maintenance workforces across the country, and Redtail Air is not immune.

To expand its maintenance force, they are exploring the FAA OJT program for aspiring mechanics who wish to obtain their ratings while on the job under the supervision of FAA-certified A&Ps.

Looking forward

Interestingly, Redtail Air continues to operate with numbers similar to pre-Covid-19 figures. Air tours are on the rise, although with a notable difference.

Prior to the pandemic, international tourists made up 20% of the clients flown, with the remainder being domestic tourists.

Today, the number of international tourists is barely 5%. Redtail Air attends tourist conventions and other marketing events to expand its client base. Recently, after attending the Go West Conference, the company secured an agreement with a French company to add Redtail Air as a partner. This deal will bring 20 buses carrying tourists to Redtail annually.

The GippsAero GA8 Airvan was designed for remote strips. It providing excellent views for 7 passengers.

Redtail Air’s strength is that it is small enough to provide personalized service to its clients. They focus on the unique and special experience that aviation brings to the adventure.

Limiting company growth for air tours are the national park permits, which limit the time of day and number of overflights of the parks. Helicopters are not allowed to overfly the national parks due to their noise signature, and are relegated to the periphery of the parks.

With an eye to raising safety levels, Redtail Air sees adding a turbine-powered Robinson R66 at some point in the future, and possibly a pressurized turboprop capable of flying at higher and smoother altitudes to provide a higher level of service.

By providing pressurized turboprop service, Redtail Air hopes to expand its reach by bringing customers from their home airports directly to the majestic views and activities that adventurous vacationers crave.

A Redtail Airvan waits for tired hikers.

Another advantage of a pressurized turboprop aircraft, such as the Pilatus PC-12, is that the Grand Canyon comes into reach, potentially replacing a 6-hour car ride with a 2-hour flight. This would certainly add Moab as a destination for Grand Canyon visitors.

To further expand the interest in air tours, Redtail Air added sunset tours.

The company has already added a Moab Best Arches Tour, but permits limit the number of daily flights and the time of day they take place, and impose annual overflight limits.

Another promising event that occurred in 2021 was the Utah Film Commission scouting for and selecting film locations near Moab to film a new TV series. With film activities, aircraft traffic and air tour business increased substantially.

JayJay Chandler has written for Pro Pilot since 1995, and has flown for FAA, military, and Part 91 and 135 operators throughout his 30-year career.