In the late 1970's, sensing a real need to address safety issues and concerns about noise and pollution generated while flying over protected environments like the Grand Canyon, John Seibold and Elling Halvorson, then owners of Grand Canyon Airlines (GCA), realized that the air tour industry needed a safer, stronger, quieter, more reliable, and environmentally friendly aircraft. At the time, GCA owned and operated a fleet of 13 older Cessna C-207 airplanes, flying nearly 80,000 passengers a year. These airplanes had five cramped passenger seats, very small windows, one noisy piston driven engine, no climate controls (except for small air vents), and just one pilot at the controls of every flight.
Both being pilots themselves, Seibold and Halvorson knew that the density altitude and power limitations of those types of aircraft were not ideal on a hot day over the Canyon with a full load of fuel and passengers, especially departing from a high-altitude airport such as the Grand Canyon National Park Airport. While the Canyon is always spectacular, a Grand Canyon airplane tour in the back seat of a Cessna 207 was often just an uncomfortable ride. Seibold, founder and then owner of Scenic Airlines (1967) in Las Vegas, and Halvorson, founder and owner of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters (1965), were both committed to carrying on the legacy of pioneering the air industry, which their small airline created fifty years earlier.
They were, and still are, one hundred percent committed to the future of the air tour industry and the benefits they provide, especially at the Grand Canyon. Seibold, with his engineering background, considered several different types of aircraft for GCA and Scenic's new fleet. In the summer of 1980, he borrowed a DeHavilland Twin Otter airplane from a friend. The Twin Otter, one of the most famous Canadian made aircrafts, is known worldwide as an incredible aircraft with unique flying characteristics, and was the perfect combination of strength, reliability, comfort, and quiet. The only thing Seibold did not particularly care for was the original, small "port-hole" style, factory made windows that made it difficult for passengers to see the views below.
After extensive research and assistance from RW Martin Aviation and CAE Engineering, it was determined that Seibold was right, and that it could be remodeled with much larger, sightseeing style windows, without compromising the integrity of the rugged Twin Otter. Ultimately, this led to the creation of what Seibold and Halvorson named the "Vistaliner," after the incredible panoramic views offered to every passenger on the aircraft. The 19 passenger configuration also allowed GCA to fly the same number of passengers over the Canyon, with just 1/3 the number of flights compared to what their previous fleet would allow. The cost was enormous: One Twin Otter is valued at the price of nearly 10 Cessna 207 airplanes. Scenic Airlines and GCA, however, began a quest to acquire Twin Otter aircrafts from around the world and modifying them with their newly-patented Vistaliner configuration.
Since the first Vistaliner went online at Grand Canyon Airlines in March 1983, the ownership has modified over 40 of these aircraft in the Vistaliner configuration. The patent on these special modifications are still owned by Seibold / Halvorson. The Vistaliner is now known worldwide to be the ultimate limousine of air tour aircraft and are leased worldwide.