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Up, up and away with Pat Proctor of Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours

NIAGARA FALLS – Pat Proctor is the “face” of Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours in Niagara Falls. But he is not one of the pilots, as many assume.

But even though he has his feet planted firmly on the ground, he is flying high as a Niagara Falls ambassador – a member of the city’s Tourism Advisory Board, Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of Reclaim Niagara, which has a goal of restoring Niagara Falls to its former glory.

This past Thursday the Niagara USA Chamber recognized Rainbow Air as one of its small businesses of the year, representing the Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association. The chamber also honored downtown Niagara Falls business owner Galean Baillie, owner of Niagara Pedicab and Bike Rentals, as well as other small businesses throughout Niagara County.

Proctor was called an “excellent ambassador” with an enthusiastic smile that encourages everyone to do their part to welcome visitors to the area. His company regularly volunteers to provide transportation for charity and promotional events, including taking Santa Claus to the Historic Lewiston Christmas Walk.

“I don’t look for the recognition. I look for what we need and what needs to get done and what can we do to improve,” he said.

Proctor, 36, is the vice president of marketing and sales and runs the day-to-day operations of the firm. His father, Robert Culbreth, and uncle, Tom Culbreth, both private pilots, bought the business more than 20 years ago when he was just 15 years old. His father and uncle are the president and vice president of the company, respectively.

Proctor, a Niagara Falls native and graduate of Niagara Wheatfield High School, said he grew up planning to be a high school history teacher and even worked for a time as a substitute teacher.

But he said he left teaching because he thought a job with Rainbow Air would be the best experience possible.

“This is my ground zero. This is where all the action is at,” Proctor said.

He currently lives in Grand Island with his wife, Stacey and their two children, Owen 4½ and Samantha, 3.

After a tour above the city on Rainbow Air, Proctor sat down with The Buffalo News to talk about what’s going on at “ground zero.”

I thought you were a pilot

I get that a lot. And everyone gets disappointed when they hear that I’m not.

Did you consider becoming a pilot?

I have, but to reach the requirement for turbine-power aircraft, it’s almost impossible. You have to start at a very young age or go in the military. And with the military switching to drones, it’s not as easy as it used to be. Out of the six pilots we have, five are military. One is civilian training. They flew Black Hawk and the Chinook. Our pilot today, Daran Fields, flew the Chinook unit out of Rochester.

Did your dad fly? Is that why he bought the business?

My dad, Robert Culbreth, actually my stepdad, and my uncle, Tom Culbreth, both were small-airplane pilots. They started the company on July 1, 1995, when they purchased the company from the previous owner, Dave Banks.

When your dad and uncle decided to buy the business, what did you think?

At that age, I said “Wow that’s pretty cool.”

Do you still think its cool?

Oh yes, absolutely. I really do. Even after 21 years here. People say, “Aw you’re going to a job, it’s just a paycheck.” But you are dealing with people from all over the world. It’s awesome just seeing their faces when they get off. There’s a saying, “You can’t please them all,” but here we come pretty damn close.

How long has this business been in the city?

Almost 40-something years. Before we owned it, it used to be over on Goat Island. This spot (at 454 Main St.) is awesome.

What would a person see on the tour?

It’s a 10-minute ride, which covers our side and the Canadian side and obviously the American and Horseshoe falls. We’re in heavily restricted airspace, which is called CYR 518 airspace. We share the airspace with two other operators. We are the only U.S. operator. (He referred to a crash in 1992 prior to their ownership when the U.S. helicopter was clipped by another helicopter and went down, killing four.) This area is so heavily regulated. It is restricted for a reason – for the safety of passengers.

What do first-timers say to you?

They say, “I’ve never even been in an airplane. I can’t believe I am going up in a helicopter.”

How important is regional tourism and promoting businesses beyond just your own?

Promoting tourism is our No. 1 thing. If you don’t promote it, people are not coming. We don’t want to hear why they like the Canadian side. You can get so close to the falls on our side and feel the power of it. I’m not knocking the State Parks, but there is more beyond the park, such as us, such as the Aquarium, or the Lockport Locks and the Cave. The Wurlitzer in North Tonawanda. It may not be so attractive to you and I because we are from here. People from the outside don’t know (these sites) and we have to educate them. We speak to every customer and ask them what they are going to do when they are here. Seven out of 10 don’t know. It shocks me.

Have you had some memorable riders?

We’re supposed to fly the Prince of Saudi Arabia next week and we were heavily featured in an episode of the “Long Island Medium.” We’ve been on the Food Network and we won an award with National Geographic for best aerial view of a wonder of the world. “Road Bros” from the Travel Channel did a feature in Lewiston and while they were here, I said, “Bring ’em over.”

What was the most exciting?

We took Paul Teutul Jr. from “American Choppers” – they did a bike for Jim Kelly’s son. They needed to get the motorcycle from Prior Aviation to the unveiling at Rich Stadium in a hurry. They called us to pick (Teutul) up and fly him into the stadium. It was part of the show. We donated our time for that. We also donated our time to a foundation that helps kids that have a rare eye disease and are losing their vision. We took them last year and are going to do it again. Just the look on their face ... We also work with the Make a Wish Foundation. We’re not looking for recognition. I’m taking a different approach.

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More information is available at www.rainbowairinc.com or on its Facebook and Twitter page. The maximum capacity is four riders at one time and the cost is $115 per person, children are $90.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.