AW139 ops allow LAS to carry pax at fixed-wing speeds to remote resorts

Expanding in tough times, YVR-based LAS adds 3rd AW139, buys 5 Learjet 85s and Vision-equipped Global Express XRS.

By Grant McLaren

Primary mission for LAS’s AW139 fleet is support of H Y Louie Company’s Sonora Resort located on a remote stretch of the British Columbia coast.

A common sight these days in the skies above Vancouver, and along the rugged British Columbia coastline, are a pair of teal green AgustaWestland AW139s. London Air Service (LAS), part of the H Y Louie Company, operates the 14,112 lb-MTOW “Spirit of Adventure” and “Family Spirit” on charter and to support a beyond-5-star wilderness resort on remote Sonora Island.

And in December LAS takes delivery of its 3rd AW139. YVR (Vancouver, Canada)-based LAS, which began operations 10 years ago with a single Bombardier Learjet 45 and 2 pilots, continues to invest in new turbine technology.

Current fleet consists of 5 Learjet 45s, 2 Challenger 605s and a Challenger 604 in addition to the pair of AW139s. On the order books are 5 Learjet 85s, the world’s first Global Express XRS with Global Vision flightdeck and the new Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67C and Honeywell Primus Epic-equipped AW139.

A focus on quality, competitive pricing and elegant transportation solutions has paid off for this ambitions operator despite challenges of the current global economy. “It’s a numbers game–like a chessboard,” says London Group Pres & CEO Wynne Powell.

“You move certain pieces and see if it lines up to what you need. It’s a tough market, especially in today’s economy, but you have to look at it strategically. While it’s difficult to meet business plan objectives in a recession we are totally confident that over the long term these helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft will produce an adequate return.

Investing in the very best equipment gets us the best employees and newer aircraft tend to be state-of-the-art from safety, fuel efficiency and environmental perspectives.” Dir Aviation Chris Simpson oversees a team of 28 pilots, 6 engineers and 2 schedulers from a new 360 x 150 ft clear span hangar complex.

Chief Pilot Fixed Wing Division Gary Farn manages flying talent aboard the Learjet 45 and Challenger 605/604 fleets while Chief Pilot Helicopter Division Dylan Thomas manages the AW139s with 2 line captains.

Dir Maintenance Chris Lacroix provides full technical support at base while Scheduling Coordinators Megan Simpson and Darryl Shaw orchestrate flight movements. “We started with one aircraft 10 years ago and kept growing,” says Simpson.

“Over the years we have not been afraid to be first in the market with new aircraft and new systems. We introduced the first Learjet 45 to Canada, as well as the first Challenger 605, and we’ll be the first with a Global Express XRS Global Vision flightdeck.

When we took delivery of our initial AW139 in 2006 it was also the first production unit in Canada. Our Dec 2009 AW139 delivery will be one of the first, if not the first, all-weather anti-ice capable machine.”

Building a business

Queens University—with one of Canada’s leading MBA programs—uses the H Y Louie Company as an example of a large conglomerate which, on paper, may not make sense. The private family conglomerate, formed 107 years ago by immigrant Hok Yat Louie, started off in the food distribution business with a family of 13 living above a tiny general store.

London Group Pres & CEO Wynne Powell took a “leap of faith” with selection of the AW139 but says all expectations have been met or exceeded.

H Y Louie Company now has over 10,000 employees dispersed among its London Drugs and IGA Canada retailing sectors, in addition to LAS and the 88-room Sonora Resort along the rugged and largely inaccessible BC coast. When LAS was launched as a charter service in 1999 it was modeled after London Drugs and IGA concepts of “good prices and great service.”

The aviation group grew quickly within its primarily charter niche to support the current mixed fleet. Charter ops range from short hops down to BFI (Boeing Field, Seattle WA) and transcon missions to routine long-haul charters to Australia, Europe, the Far East and Middle East.

After acquiring the Sonora Resort in 2002 a new transportation challenge surfaced. While the property is only 112 miles northwest of YVR, as the AW139 flies, its remoteness makes it dependent on boat and floatplane/helicopter access.

With a relatively short May–October season, and well-heeled clients requiring flexible, fast and dependable transport, the group ultimately settled on the vertical takeoff option. Today, LAS AW139s will routinely move 120 passengers up to the resort and 120 passengers back to YVR—all in a single day.

“The AW139s have been ideal for resort operations—nothing else even comes close,” says Thomas. “We can take off with 13–15 passengers and bags, cruise at 150 kts and an 825-lb-per-hour fuel burn, and land at our GPS instrument ap­proach on the island in 0.8 hr.

We can usually go both directions without refueling but have fuel at our 24-hr island facility. The automatic flight control system (AFCS) is so stable we can hand fly and stay within 10–15 ft with just trim.

Even at 5000 ft with 50-kt headwinds in a rainstorm at night we can fly a fully coupled approach with relatively low workload.” Thomas, along with AW139 Captains Rupert Kaile and Tim Seibert, appreciates power margins of the AW139 with its per-engine 1531 max continuous horsepower capable Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67Cs.

“Even at max gross, with 15 passengers and baggage, we have the power to fly away on 1 engine if we need to,” says Seibert. “With 3 times the shaft horsepower of the S76C+ we can hover at GW at 78–80% power with 30% more power in reserve (including takeoff margins).”

The Sonora challenge

Dir Aviation Chris Simpson has helped the LAS organization grow over just 10 years from 2 pilots and 1 aircraft to 28 pilots and a 10-strong mixed fleet.

Originally, LAS considered seaplane alternatives to support its Sonora Resort. Options included turbine-retrofitted de Havilland Canada DHC2 Beavers and DHC3 Otters as well as float-equipped Cessna 208 Caravans.

“Seaplanes would have been the lower cost option but we determined that helicopters would better support the resort’s 24/7 requirements with IFR day/night capability to meet customer needs and wants,” says Powell.


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