Venture thru Downtown Dallas, and you’re bound to see quite a few things – historic buildings, City Hall, and skyscrapers everywhere you look, just to name a few. Head several streets down into the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, and you might catch a glimpse of some trade show or expo going on. But something else unknown to most lies atop the roof of the Convention Center – the Central Business District(CBD) Vertiport, considered to be the world’s largest urban elevated heliport. After reading about this unique facility on the Dallas Airport System website, I had to go see it for myself. A huge heliport? In Downtown Dallas?
Built in the ’90s, the original idea was for air carrier service via rotorcraft. Much like the airport helicopter shuttle that’s been set up between Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and central Tokyo, planners envisioned a future where you could arrive at the Vertiport and board a helicopter to DFW Airport, or even other cities like Austin or San Antonio. After it was built, the idea never came to fruition, and today the Vertiport remains largely unused except for the few privately-owned helicopters that stop in every so often.
Showing me around was Rick Ellis, one of the Senior Airport Operations Officers for the Dallas Airport System, the City of Dallas department that owns and maintains the facility. To get up to the Vertiport was pretty interesting in and of itself. After meeting at street level, I followed Rick thru a series of curving ramps and security gates that went all the way up to the flight deck level, passing by the loading dock used by the Convention Center along the way.
Upon getting to the top, my first reaction was “Wow, this is much bigger than I thought!”
As a fixed-wing pilot, many of the helipad markings were relatively foreign to me. Rick explained that there are two landing spots up here, where rotorcraft coming in must land at. From there, they can then taxi into one of the five parking spots. With a dual-deck design, the CBD Vertiport is capable of handling three helicopters and two tiltrotor aircraft(like the Boeing V-22) at the same time.
Why are there numbers on the pavement? Rick said that those indicated the maximum weight that could be supported at that particular landing point. In contrast, numbers in front of a runway indicate the number of that runway, which also aligns to the magnetic compass heading.
Up here, there is also an amazing view of Downtown Dallas!
Of course, I had to get my photo taken.
Next, Rick and I headed to see the terminal building. Rick mentioned that the Vertiport has been used in several movies and TV shows – and it certainly fits the bill for some interesting filming!
Inside the terminal was a pretty basic setup, with couches, restrooms, and an unstaffed attendant desk. Before the tour, I had expected something a bit more modern and well-equipped, but this setup made sense given the low traffic numbers seen here.
On the walls, various photos of helicopters served as artwork.
A small office hosted some communications radios and other mechanical equipment. Close by, a sign-in log for arriving aircraft was also there, the sheet only one line full.
Rick and I then headed down the elevators to see what was on the ground floor.
Downstairs, there wasn’t much to see except the empty parking lot for Vertiport users and staff. Security gates ensure that folks parked here won’t have to worry about their vehicles being broken into or vandalized.
One thing I found neat was this turnstile, which led directly to the DART Convention Center Station, served by the Red and Blue lines. Literally, you could take the light rail from your apartment in downtown Plano all the way to the Convention Center station, and board your helicopter airline flight to Oklahoma City. Well, at least that was the initial idea. I guess if you have your own helicopter, that’s still doable.
Wrapping up the tour back upstairs, Rick showed me the side catwalk area of the Vertiport terminal, which looked out to a huge parking lot full of trailers used in Convention Center expositions, as well as massive cooling towers below.
Although the facilities here are quite nice, the main problem plaguing the Vertiport is lack of traffic. I saw so much potential here – yet, the place sits deserted. Hopefully down the road, the City of Dallas starts a revitalization initiative to bring traffic here – done correctly, I’m sure it would be successful!
Special thanks to the folks at the Dallas Airport System for making this post possible!