Maverick pleases tourists with scenic Grand Canyon flights
Eurocopter EC130 T2 helos are new flagships of sightseeing fleet.
The EC130's fenestron reduces the helicopter's noise signature by 50% and offers more effective antitorque control.
Maverick flies about 38,000 hrs a year. Some 75 flights a day depart from their LAS base, another 50 from nearby HND (Henderson NV), and others from a base at GCN (Grand Canyon National Park NV), depending on the time of year.
Flights from each of these have their own distinct profiles. Departing from LAS and HND, the EC130s fly to the planned magical Hualapai landing spot, while the flights from GCN swoop down to the floor of the canyon 4000 ft below the rim, then return to the airport.
Maverick started 18 years ago with 1 leased AS350 AStar. The key was to develop relationships with tour scheduling businesses around the world.
Once Maverick had established its tour product with the agencies, the company began sending the details of each new passenger's flight. And each day's flying was planned accordingly. Bookings came in faster than any of the owners could ever have predicted.
Other AStars joined the fleet as the business grew. Maverick tried every candidate helicopter and tracked operating costs and performance, as well as intangibles like passenger feedback and ease of loading and unloading.
Eurocopter's field sales people identified an opportunity to capture the air tour market—simply add more cabin room to the proven AS350 airframe. The new helicopter was identified as the EC130 to distinguish it in the market from the AStar.
The Maverick maintenance hangar at HND can support up to 3 EC130s at a time.
The first EC130 joined the fleet in 2003. It was an immediate success. Many of the tour operators flying the Grand Canyon also operated in Hawaii, so EC130s began flying there as well. Other tour operators around the world ordered the widebody helicopter for their activities, and soon the EC130 was the vehicle of choice.
Air medical operators, always challenged for cabin space, bought the EC130, trading an increment of top speed and higher fuel burn for precious extra cubage. Medical flightcrews turned in rave reviews of the EC130's added cabin space. Worldwide, more than 400 EC130s are in operation today.
The 2009 economic crisis took a heavy toll on the air tour business. In Maverick's case, management took swift steps to survive the downturn.
"Our business took a large hit," says Mandernach, "but we were determined to survive. We reduced staff and slowed deliveries of new helicopters. Eurocopter worked with us and were very helpful throughout the downturn."
Today, Las Vegas tour traffic is again pushing record levels. Flight volumes are back up, near to those in pre-2009. Maverick management learned a valuable lesson, though, and is managing operations carefully to avoid another crisis should there be a slowdown.
Enjoying record flight activity and a solid outlook for the business, it was a pivotal moment for Mandernach and his peers when they took delivery of the very first upgraded EC130—the EC130 T2.
Eurocopter builds the EC130 T2
VP Maintenance John Mandernach (L) explains Maverick's sophisticated maintenance system to McClendon.
"Eurocopter listened to us and other customers operating the EC130," says Mandernach. "While the widened fuselage was a real breakthrough, we identified a few improvements that would make it even better—so the T2 incorporates sliding doors on both sides, whereas in the early version only the left side had one. They're essential for ease of passenger movement in and out of the aircraft."
He continues, "The cabin structure is beefed up to reduce inflight vibration, and an active vibration control system (AVCS) originally designed for the EC225 has been incorporated. The result is a near-turboprop-smooth ride—a quality very important to tourists and 'layman passengers' used to airline rides."
With 7 passengers and mission fuel, the EC130 is operating in an envelope incrementally larger than its older brother, the AStar. In the hot environments of Hawaii and Las Vegas, density altitude with these loads can be a challenge. So Eurocopter added a growth version of the Turbomeca Arriel 2-series engine—the 2D—for the EC130 T2.
While holding the envelope dimensions to the same as its 2B1 predecessor, the Arriel 2D incorporates a larger compressor. The result is an increase in takeoff power from 847 to 952 shp. Increased internal gas flow efficiencies deliver the additional power with a minimal increase in fuel burn. Another benefit—TBO is increased from 3500 to 4000 hrs. A 6000-hr interval is expected with field maturity.
A flight in the T2
Mandernach and McClendon examine EC130 main rotor blades that are in the process of being repainted.
Mandernach offered us a ride in the new T2. Since N872MH is in passenger service, and dual controls are more of a challenge to fit in the EC130 with the left-hand pilot station, this would be purely an observation ride.
Once we were strapped in, Mandernach pointed out the slightly different engine controls for the Arriel 2D. With the engine running and pre-takeoff check complete, we departed LAS to the south. Our destination was the Maverick maintenance base at HND.
The ride was smooth—very similar to the EC135—as we cruised at 70% on the first limit indicator (FLI), indicating 128 KIAS. We were at 50% fuel, 3 people total. Gross weight was approximately 4550 lbs. MGTOW is now up to 5512 lbs.
Fuel flow indicated 50 gph, or about 2 gph more than the AS350B3 with the 2B1 engine under similar flight conditions.