Helijet proves value of wings and rotors in diverse ops
Pair of Learjet 31As and 2 Sikorsky S76s fly EMS while 5 S76s and 4 Bell 206Ls provide wide range of services from Vancouver base. Remote site support and dedicated EMS are all a part of the mix.
Pres & CEO Danny Sitnam formed Helijet as a scheduled rotary-wing service in 1986. Over the years Helijet has branched out into fixed and rotary-wing medevac flying as well as assorted charter activity.
"But the 412 had noise issues over the Gulf Islands—we had to climb high and vary routings due to noise—and we preferred the flexibility of a wheeled aircraft. The S76 is faster and quieter with sleek lines and more of a business aircraft feel."
Six months after initiating services, S76As took over, with 3–5 aircraft supporting the schedule. Helijet has been pleased with Sikorsky product reliability and support over the years.
Helijet ran a Victoria Harbour–BFI (Boeing Field, Seattle WA) scheduled S76A service for about 2 years. While this 30-min route was successful, there was no downtown Seattle heliport to take advantage of and, particularly after Sep 11, rising security and customs/immigration costs ultimately made the service economically unsustainable.
For a 15-month period Helijet also operated BFI–YBL (Campbell River BC) scheduled service with a Beech 1900D but this too ceased due to the high cost of supporting customs and immigration service at YBL.
For a while, Helijet augmented S76A scheduled services between Vancouver and Victoria with a leased 23-seat Sikorsky S61 backing up a trio of S76s. "The S61 was a natural choice for additional capacity during peak demand periods and cost per seat mile was about the same as the S76A," says VP Operations and Commercial Programs Rick Hill.
"S61 services were discontinued about a year ago, due to the economic downturn, but we may bring it back again depending on demand."
Looking to the future, Helijet feels the S76A is still the best and most cost-effective option for its 3rd decade of scheduled rotary-wing service. The company has evaluated the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma and the Sikorsky S92 but such options would be challenging from an operating cost perspective.
Likewise smaller equipment, such as the 6 to 7-seat AgustaWestland AW109, would cost too much per seat mile. "For the foreseeable future, we plan to continue to operate S76As," says Sitnam.
"We believe there may eventually be viable markets for tiltrotor aircraft, as we have the advantage of downtown landing sites and infrastructure in Vancouver and Victoria. New markets, however, will depend on availability of additional city center landing facilities."
Medevac services operate 24/7 out of Helijet's facility and hangar at YVR (Vancouver BC, Canada). Shown here is one of Helijet's 3 medevac-configured S76As and one of 2 medevac-ready Learjet 31As.
As scheduled rotary-wing services are typically busiest during winter months Helijet deploys S76As and Bell 206Ls during summer months in support of resorts on the BC coast—particularly the popular and remote Haida G'wai (Queen Charlotte Islands) up near the Alaskan panhandle.
In 1998 Helijet signed a contract with BC Ambulance Service to operate 2 dedicated YVR-based S76As and average utilization on this contract has been running 750 hrs per aircraft per year. The contract was recently renewed for 8 more years with 3 S76C+s based at YVR and YPR (Prince Rupert BC).
On the fixed-wing front Helijet began operating a pair of Learjet 31As in EMS configuration 5 years ago. They fly a combined 1500 hours each year with stages ranging from 15–90 min within British Columbia in addition to longer medical repatriation missions from time to time. "The 31As have worked out very well for us," says Houston.
"We cover the entire province for the ambulance service and we flew a recent 14-flight-hour round trip to GUA (Guatemala City, Guatemala) with fuel stops at SLC (Intl, Salt Lake City UT) and SAT (San Antonio TX).
For what we do the 31A is close to ideal. It's more cost-effective than a Learjet 45 although more limited on range. A Learjet 35 would also be a good option for our EMS operations."
Rotary-wing fleet consists of 39 pilots with most flying both scheduled and EMS services. All multiengine helicopters are flown 2-pilot with minimum captain requirements being 3000 hrs for EMS and 1200 hrs for other missions.
Typical rotary-wing pilot schedules involve 18 shifts per month—including 4 or 5 reserve days—with about 50 flying hours and 145 duty hours.
Helijet looks for varied flying backgrounds, with strong IFR and confined area experience, when hiring captains. Rotary-wing first officer positions in the S76As are often made available to low-time pilots with as few as 160 hrs TT says Todd.
"We've been giving opportunities to low-time pilots for a long time. Many of our ramp employees have advanced through dispatch to flight ops with minimum hours and we've been happy with the results."
Former Helijet ramp employees Jeff Schmold and Erin Johnson recently transitioned to S76A flightdecks. "I started with Helijet 3 years ago and have 150 hrs TT in helicopters," says Schmold who has just completed 2 weeks of S76A ground school and 12 hrs flight time.
(L–R) First Officer Erin Johnson, Helijet Contract Trainer Joe Edwards and FO Jeff Schmold. Johnson became an S76 pilot with 250 hrs TT while Schmold joined as a ramp employee 3 years ago with 150 hrs TT. Edwards helps in transitioning lower-time pilots into the S76 flightdeck.
Johnson joined Helijet passenger services division 2.5 years ago and transitioned to S76A flightdeck at 250 hrs TT.
"We're transitioning from a few hours experience to very sophisticated medium twins operating in a busy IFR environment," says Johnson. "The opportunities are very good here and it's a great flying schedule with the opportunity to live in Vancouver and be home every night."