Wilson Construction builds profits with aviation assets

High-precision electrical power line support in remote areas is standard practice for Oregon-based contractor.

Chief Pilot FW Jeff Ward was Wilson Construction’s first professional pilot. He is also a commercial instrument rated helicopter pilot.

“The ground was still smoking down below and the Forest Service had barred all land access to the area,” recalls Hattan. “Fire­fighting operations were still going on in the vicinity and our pilots were constantly monitoring multiple radios.” Routine jobs include repairs and maintenance to power lines which can only be taken off grid during small windows of time.

In such cases linemen are constantly shuttled between towers or positioned on carts which hang from the wires and are supported by helicopter. “We’re much more efficient with helicopters and can literally do miles of spacer replacements within those small windows,” says Johnson.

Life here can also be dramatic for the 6 full-time helicopter mechanics who never know where they may be based next. When an MD500E went AOG, due to engine bearing failure, at a small clearing in the remote Alaskan wilderness, a replacement engine was dispatched from UAO aboard the company King Air 350.

“We camped out at that clearing overnight, working on engine replacement, and were on the alert as grizzly bears were in the area,” says Dir Helicopter Maintenance Charlie Duren. “Fortunately, we never had to use the firearms issued for protection on this remote job!”

Company helicopter pilots wear orange flightsuits on the job and this can be somewhat problematic when dropping in at remote communities. “Our flightsuits look similar to outfits that escaped prisoners are often seen in,” says Hattan. “One pilot landed in a small community and was pushing a shopping cart in a grocery store when a lady came around the corner, saw him, abandoned her cart right there and started running!”

Fleet evolution

Prior to 2004 Wilson Construction chartered helicopters and hired ad-hoc pilots for power line projects. “But we couldn’t get the scheduling we needed or the quality of pilots we were looking for,” says Wilson.

“We quickly realized that we could use our own helicopters to augment our work and be more productive.” The company acquired its first helicopter, an MD500E, in 2004 and hired Hattan. MD500Es were selected primarily due to compact rotor diameter and nimble abilities in power line environments.

“There was no clear second choice,” says Don Wilson. “Eurocopter AStar 350s, and even the smaller EC120s, are too big to work close to the lines and multiblade systems give us a more stable platform than the 2-bladed Bell 206s/ 406s.

The MD500E, with its fully articulating rotor system, vs semirigid system on the 206, is also faster and more efficient for side pulling power lines. For the foreseeable future we plan to stay with MD500s—they’re powerful, nimble and do everything we want at the best price.”

Dir Helicopter Maintenance Charlie Duren is supported by 5 inhouse mechanics. He has been pleased with maintainability of the MD fleet.

Wilson Construction recently acquired an MD530F, because of its “hot-and-high” capabilities, for use on certain higher altitude jobs up to 8000 ft ASL.

All company helicopters are equipped with Garmin GPSMAP 496 and dual VHF but the goal is to keep these machines as light as possible. On the fixed-wing front Don Wilson acquired a single-engined Piper aircraft in 1978 primarily to avoid a road commute between GEG (Spokane WA) and UAO.

This was upgraded to a Piper Seneca, then to a King Air C90, a Baron and then a King Air C90A. Current fleet features a 2000 Citation CJ1, 2008 King Air 350 and 2009 King Air C90GTi that log a total of about 800 hrs annually. Jeff Ward is the only company professional pilot—however, Don and Stacy Wilson also regularly operate from the left seat.

Don Wilson is qualified aboard all company fixed and rotor wing aircraft while Stacy Wilson flies the C90GTi. Ward was hired in 2007 as the company’s first professional pilot and keeps up a busy schedule and over 550 annual flying hours. Don Wilson considers the King Air 350 a most effective workhorse aircraft and without any clear replacement alternative in terms of useful load.

It’s an economical aircraft and can be loaded up with 9 passengers for nonstop ops UAO–KTN (Ketchi­kan AK). The 350 will also shuttle engines and helicopter support parts, move linemen between jobs and field executive missions one-stop as far afield as TEB. The C90GTi was acquired last year to support shorter missions and ops into shorter and snow-covered fields.

Both King Airs have Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 flightdecks and are equipped with many Raisbeck components. Don Wilson says, “The Raisbeck Epic equipped C90GTi—with its 93-in Raisbeck/Hartzell 4-blade props—gives us additional useful load, shorter takeoff distance and a quieter cabin.

We’re also very happy with the new, more spacious Raisbeck Crown wing lockers.” While the CJ1 has been a successful aircraft for Wilson Construction, and supported missions as was away as EYW (Key West FL), HOU (Hobby, Houston TX) and MDW (Midway, Chicago IL), management is currently evaluating a faster, longer-range upgrade.

Don Wilson says, “We like to buy well-proven traditional aircraft and we’d prefer to have a faster, more capable aircraft as we continue to expand nationwide. We’re looking at the CJ3, CJ4 and Bombardier Learjet 45XR.”

Maintaining the fleet

Wilson Construction subcontracts nearly all fixed-wing maintenance to Management West at UAO. The support provided by Tom Anders and his Management West crew has been critical to keeping the planes going over the years. Ward reports that product support from both Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft has been good.

Company fixed-wing aircraft are all relatively new and have had no significant reliability issues. All maintenance, inspections, component changes and limited sheet metal work on the MD fleet is accomplished in-house under the direction of Duren.

Company helicopters—with the highest-time unit just 5300 hrs—are maintained in pristine condition. All MD500s have been upgraded with Garmin 496 GPS as well as Allison 250-C20B+ with enhanced compressors, improved temperature margins and better altitude performance.



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