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Christmas Light Tours

Executive Air pilot Pete Finley stands next to an airplane used for aerial tours of holiday lights in the Bismarck and Mandan area. Aerial flights are usually one half hour in length said Paul Vetter of Executive Air.

BISMARCK, N.D. -- As Christmas light displays become more elaborate in Bismarck, a previously budding industry has grown up from the ground to the air in the form of Christmas light tours.

Limousine and airplane Christmas light tours have grown in popularity in Bismarck-Mandan.

Nightlife Limousine began its seasonal tour in 1992 with one six-passenger limo doing four trips a night. In 2013, the company saw its largest number of bookings at 150 tours and is now using 20 vehicles.

“As long as I can remember, there’s been people looking out at Christmas lights,” said owner Rick Berge. “Christmas lights have a lot of wow factor.”

Berge said the reason he thinks the industry has grown in popularity over the last few years is the new technological aspect of light displays.

“You’ve got a block long of lights and they’re all programmed to music in great detail,” he said. “The lights have never been better.”

The tour season for Nightlife Limousine usually begins on Dec. 1, but Berge said that the company did some before Thanksgiving this year.

“People that are going to do a large display are going to do it early,” he said. “Those houses are the ones we go to more than anything.”

Besides the popular regions of Northview Lane, the House on Kennedy and Griswald House, Berge has also added an optional half hour for a multi-house display on Chesnut Lane in Lincoln, because of a large number of requests in 2013. He said about 90 percent of bookings this year included the new addition.

“I figured it would grow and it has,” Berge said. “It becomes more tradition for more people each year.”

A new form of Christmas light tours has cropped up around the last five years due to growing interest. Executive Air Taxi Corporation and Bismarck Aero Center offer aerial Christmas light tours.

Paul Vetter, chief operating officer of Executive Air, said that they did about 10 flights in their first year. This year, Vetter said he expects over 100 flights, which are, at most, three people per plane.

Executive Air offers different Bismarck sightseeing tours but the Christmas tours were inspired by the company’s “sweetheart flights” on Valentine’s Day.

“This is something that’s very unique, very personal,” Vetter said. “For most people, it’s a once in a lifetime event.”

The flights are about 30 minutes and feature sites like Seratoma Park, Northview Lane, and the Capitol.

“People always enjoyed it from a limousine. Now, they can see it from above,” Vetter said.

Shae Helling, marketing specialist at the Bismarck Aero Center, said that they’ve noticed an increase in their tours over the last five years as well. When the tours were first offered there would only be a few people, but that has grown to about 60 people.

“Christmas lights are getting people into the spirit after all of the running around,” Helling said.

Helling said that the tours are popular among families, as well as for date nights and even a few proposals.

“It’s a change of pace,” Vetter said. “These are the days everybody should be enjoying friends and family.”

Neither company does a lot of advertising besides Facebook. Executive Air has a sign in front of the building. Vetter said that it’s all done by word of mouth and he’s seen people come in from other parts of the county to take the tour.

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Reach reporter Karee Magee at 701-250-8251 or karee.magee@bismarcktribune.com.

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