FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE

VIH Cougar tackles big jobs with tough crews flying larger Sikorsky, AW and Eurocopter helos

Increasing use of S92s, AW139s and EC135s allows this operator to carry out oil rig supply and EMS missions in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.


VIH Cougar supports Sikorsky S61s that rotate in from Canadian sister company Cougar Helicopters.

Safety first

Dir Safety Management System (SMS) Bill Majeau describes himself as having "a healthy unease" when it comes to safety.

"I view safety as a result, not merely a target," he says. "We mandate a proactive stance toward safety, which includes a SMS meeting every 2 weeks, in which we look for risks and address means to avoid them. Safety costs money, but an accident can cost infinitely more.

That's why we invested in custom-made maintenance stands for the aircraft instead of ladders. We do this for the aircraft as well as the maintenance personnel. Our aircraft tugs are equipped with flashing lights to provide greater visibility to everyone on the flight line.

That is the same reason that reflective vests are mandatory on the flightline, even during daylight hours. Our SMS manual is not just another book on the shelf—it resonates with everyone."

Corporate culture begins at the top. Majeau says that VIH Heli­copters Gen Mgr Bill MacDonald has been quoted as saying, "If it takes longer to do it safely, then we will take longer to do the job right—the safe way."

There is a "stop harm" culture at the company. As Majeau says, "By its very nature, aviation is a fast-paced business, probably no more so than EMS missions—but, no matter how time-sensitive the operation, we have to take the rush mentality out of it.

I'm not just saying this because I work here, but I can honestly say I have not seen it this good with any other company I've been associated with."

VIH Cougar Helicopters Dir of Operations Larry Lippert has enjoyed a long career of rotary-wing flying, starting at age 18 when he was in the US Army, piloting Bell UH1s out of Fort Richardson AK.

After his stint in the Army, Lippert found a demand for helicopter pilots in Alaska, and began flying with ERA Aviation, the largest helicopter operator in the region.

The AW139 is fitted with a LifePort Med Bed—essentially a lightweight, low-profile, self-contained modular air ambulance system.

Lippert recalls, "It's the people you meet along the way that make this job so interesting.

The same folks who hired me when I was first starting out as a pilot, I'm now hiring to work here at VIH Cougar. I've learned from the best in the business and I want them to know I appreciate it. They know who they are."

Lippert was eventually ATP-rated on the Bell 212/412 and also flew the JetRanger, LongRanger, and the Eurocopter AS350/AS355, flying all 6 types constantly. After 12 years in Alaska, he opted for the extreme opposite climate in Lake Charles LA, where he spent 5 years flying the Bell 412 and MBB BO105. Later, he flew EMS in Columbus OH, flying BK117s and the AS365 and was promoted to director of training at ERA.

Following this, Lippert took a break from flying and took a position with Blue Sky Network—the company that developed the satellite-based aircraft tracking software and hardware used in all VIH Cougar's aircraft.

Three years later, he was back in the aviation business with VIH Cougar, joining the team as manager of business development and later being promoted to ops director.

Lippert also flies the Bell 206, S61, AW139 and S92. He says, "We're very much a niche player in an arena filled with bigger players, so the question is, 'How do you make a name for yourself in this market?' In addition to our high standard of safety we are required to be very innovative. For example, VIH Cougar Helicopters is the only operator in the Gulf with 100% satellite-based tracking and voice communications.

This means our area of operations is not limited to a few radio antennas with our customers paying for phone lines to connect our radios to multiple onshore dispatchers. Of course, because the system is 100% satellite-based, there is no interruption of service or safety during or after a hurricane.

We have 2 fully manned flight following and communication centers that operate 24/7—one in Lafayette LA that's a certified state 911 call center, and the other in St John's NL, Canada. This gives us full redundancy and unparalleled backup capabilities.

The system includes free controlled access to a live Web-based map showing the position speed and altitude of our aircraft."

He continues, "Crowded heliports and limited parking are issues most offshore companies fight with on a daily basis. The VIH Cougar Heli­copters solution is not to build more heliports.

Why waste money duplicating a facility that's already underutilized and overcrowded when we can operate more safely and more efficiently from an FAA certified airport? We operate from airports throughout the Gulf coast that provide professional fuel services, IFR approaches, FAA protected airspace and plenty of parking with good road access.

Our huge air conditioned hangar and large modern passenger terminal in Galliano are unmatched in the Gulf."

A flying ambulance

Most of VIH Cougar's work is EMS flying. The standard configuration of the company's helicopters is for air ambulance mode.

Richard Cormier, one of the company's paramedics, has 21 years' EMS experience, 17 of them as a paramedic. Prior to joining VIH Cougar in 2006, he worked for Acadian Ambulance Service, which contracts with the helicopter operation.

Cormier says, "I enjoy being in the aviation business as well as being a paramedic. This has to be a team effort with good communication between the front and back. It's important that we all know and understand the capabilities of the various hospitals in the vicinity, as well as the capabilities of the aircraft we're using."

The AW139 is fitted with a LifePort Med Bed—essentially a lightweight, low-profile, self-contained modular air ambulance system. In addition, each aircraft is equipped with a Lifepak 12, a cardiac monitor and defibrillator.

IV fluids, various standard meds, bandages and dressings are also standard equipment. Cormier explains, "Our customers currently use Acadian Medics.

When the medic on a rig feels that a situation requires an air evacuation, he or she calls Medical Control to speak with a doctor, who gives the actual approval for the helicopter. It requires coordination between the rig medic, us and the receiving facility to effect a successful evacuation. This is the primary goal of VIH Cougar, so it's our specialty."

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