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OPERATOR PROFILE

Maverick pleases tourists with scenic Grand Canyon flights

Eurocopter EC130 T2 helos are new flagships of sightseeing fleet.

By Woody McClendon
ATP/Helo. Challenger 604, Bell 222/412, Eurocopter AS350B3


Maverick EC130s are parked on the ready line at the company's HND (Henderson NV) facility. During the day they'll be flying tourists to the Grand Canyon.

For as long as flying machines have existed, people on the ground have craved the chance to ride in one for perhaps their only opportunity in life to experience the joy of flight and a fleeting view of their house and home from above.

When the first Bell 47s fluttered into the civilian world, they were an instant hit at county fairs. People lined up for a ride around town, 2 at a time. They would cling to the plastic bubble as the machine lurched through the air and gave them the miracle of a view from 500 ft.

Fast forward to today, to a ramp at LAS (McCarran, Las Vegas NV), where a fleet of sleek Eurocopter EC130s awaits the morning's first customers for an airborne tour of the Grand Canyon. The passengers are gathered in a nearby terminal building, ready to be shepherded aboard for their great adventure.

Their excitement level is every bit as high as the people who flew in those Bell 47s, but their ride will be a far more wonderful experience. Seven of them will settle into upholstered seats, surrounded by polished Plexiglas windows. They will don soft headsets so they can hear the pilot describe the wonders of the Canyon. And they'll be cruising at 140 mph in air-conditioned luxury.

This is Maverick Helicopters—the leading air tour operator serving the Grand Canyon. VP Maintenance John Mandernach is our host for the day. As he shows us through the passenger terminal, he indicates a large topographic wall map and points out the route we'll be flying, which his fleet of EC130s flies several times a day.

The route takes his passengers to a secluded spot on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, where their EC­130 will land and they will disembark. They'll breathe in the pristine air and experience the silence that can only be found far from the bustle of civilization.

Their pilot serves the passengers chilled champagne, they snap pictures of breathtaking steep cliffs and the foaming Colorado River, and then it's back to the helicopter for the return trip to Las Vegas.

EC130 flight ops

Maverick EC130 T2 hovers over a rock landing zone in preparation for landing.

Maverick operates 35 EC130s and employs 65 pilots, 36 maintainers and numerous support personnel. They're all dedicated to making every flight a memorable experience for their passengers, who hail from every country in the world. The passengers are booked for air tours by travel agents the world over as part of their package to Las Vegas.

The scheduling system works like clockwork, taking in thousands of reservations and assigning them to flights on their planned day of adventure. Every night, Maverick's 36 maintenance technicians prepare the EC130s for the next day's assignments.

When their work is complete, their co-workers who are assigned as quality assurance inspectors check the entire job before adding their official stamp to the records. A computerized set of maintenance records documents their work and serves as the administrative tool for the official return to service.

Pilots check in for their shifts, gather the weather for the day and make sure that it's within company limits. Then they pick up the aluminum "can" which contains the records for their aircraft. The front page tells them the aircraft's status, when it was last inspected, when the next inspection is due, and the timeline for all its components. A scan of the page confirms for the pilot that his aircraft is legal for the day's flying.

The helicopters are positioned on departure ramps at Maverick's 3 facilities. Tour buses bring the passengers to the Maverick terminals an hour before their scheduled takeoff time. The lobbies, stocked with snacks and drinks, offer shops with memorabilia, photo ops and other merchandise.

N872MH's cockpit includes a monitor (far R) displaying the nose camera view for the passengers. The vehicle and engine malfunction display (VEMD) is in the center of the panel. Note the left-hand pilot seat—a unique feature of the EC130 that allows for a 3rd passenger seat up front.

As departure time draws near, the pilots gather their passengers, introduce themselves and escort them to the aircraft. He or she personally attends to settling the passengers into their seats, assists with buckling them in and then conducts a safety briefing.

With everything secure, the pilot starts the helicopter and they depart for their tour experience.

Pilots are trained in customer service along with their flight duties. They treat their passengers in recognition that they have traveled a long way to take this flight—and that for them it's a significant, memorable event. The pilot narrates the tour over the intercom from a script.

"Most of our passengers understand English to some degree," says Mandernach, "but we're developing an automated system that will allow the pilot to select the language for each individual seat. The pilot will be available to answer questions, subject to sterile cockpit rules, of course. We think the personalized language will add to the experience for our passengers."

On arrival back at the terminal, the pilot secures the helicopter, then assists the passengers back to the terminal. Often he or she is given hugs of appreciation and is asked to autograph photos with the passengers.

"It's these moments, when we see the smiles of appreciation, that we know our demanding pilot selection process has paid off again," Mandernach says. "Flying tours isn't for every pilot. If they aren't by nature interested in people, they won't make it in this business. We're dedicated to the ultimate safe flight for our passengers, but if we don't attend to them with care, then we will have failed them."

Flights are about 90 min and cost $500 per person and up, depending on the profile flown. During the flight, a nose-mounted camera records the entire trip. The pilot brings in the memory card from the camera system and hands it to a video specialist. She inserts it into a battery of computers and stands by to produce personal DVDs for any passenger who wants one.

After another round of shopping in the terminal, the passengers board buses for their next adventure in Las Vegas. Most will remember their Grand Canyon flight as the highlight of their trip.

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