FLIGHT DEPT BASICS

Selecting the right helicopter based on flight ops missions

Making the decision to acquire rotary-wing assets requires clear performance metrics and efficient selection criteria.

By Don Van Dyke
ATP/Helo/CFII, F28, Bell 222
Pro Pilot Canada Technical Editor


After years of stagnation, the pace of global economic recovery remains halting. In turn, companies seek new ways to be "first to innovate," "first to partner" and "first to market." Since travel is often used by organizations to create competitive advantage, small to medium-size companies may consider using dedicated aircraft, some for the first time, believing that business aviation offers to bridge gaps left by other transportation modes.

Whereas range and speed are primary selection criteria for airplanes, access and mobility are the chief discriminants for rotorcraft, recognizing that cost is a common concern. The present article focuses on helicopter procurement as a com­panion to the earlier feature "Finding the right business airplane" (Pro Pilot, Feb 2013, pp 50–58).

Professional pilots who understand helicopter selection, ownership and operating models can clarify concepts and jargon which decisionmakers may find complex and confusing. This article suggests a basic, needs-based strategy to match travel profiles and the helicopter market that seeks to serve them.

Opportunity

US airlines reduced the number of scheduled domestic flights by 14.0% between 2007 and 2012, leading to increased passenger loads and higher fares on regional flights. A US DOT report states that in 2012 US airlines achieved an 83.4% load factor—the highest level for scheduled service since 1945.

Many business travelers are bound to short-term planning. This may render an airline seat unsuitable because it is scarce, expensive or unattractive. The alternatives are few—gain use of an aircraft through charter, lease or prepaid time cards, buy all or part of an aircraft, fly the airlines, or don't travel.

Since the global recession began in 2008, companies are more concerned with the value-yield of corporate aircraft and with avoiding the appearance of corporate excess.
If aviation is to be employed, related decisions must be founded on robust business reasoning.

Process

The application of aviation to corporate needs involves determining needs, identifying selection criteria and using metrics to evaluate operations, adjusting the process as necessary.

Airlines operate to a business model in which the direct goal is profit. Business aviation seeks to provide utility to pursue profit. The idea is not to select the helicopter first and then explore how it can best be used—rather, it is first to quantify and evaluate needs, then acquire and operate a "best-match" helicopter using the following process:

• First, develop a travel profile, including metrics by which its accuracy can be measured. To get benefits from metrics, 3 things are needed—a valid benchmark identifying best practices, repeatability over time, and actionable outcomes that can lead to system improvement.

• Second, complete the process of helicopter selection using a framework which optimizes capital outlay, operating costs and other factors. Identify related metrics to measure the appropriateness of the selection. The application of aviation to corporate needs involves determining needs, identifying selection criteria, and using metrics to evaluate operational returns, adjusting the process as necessary.

• Third, operate the helicopter while using the metrics to measure the achievement of objectives.

• Finally, evaluate outcomes and adjust requirements and means as necessary.

The travel profile

A travel profile is a structured collection of information that considers business needs, business travelers and travel patterns. Travel profiles which focus primarily on aircraft and service providers as ends rather than means risk producing unfulfilled expectations and dissatisfaction as outcomes.

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