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.

The business needs profile identifies needs as the opening stage of the user decision process. A business need is a required quality such as efficiency—but productivity may be more important to a corporation than almost any other factor.

In pursuing commercial superiority, businesses are relying increasingly on intangible assets like competitive, economic, social and enterprise value.

Business aviation should be quantified in these terms, emphasizing how it will allow new connections to be made quickly and efficiently, accelerating activity and enhancing business relationships.

A business needs profile may include elements such as those shown in the upper table on p 86.

Metrics for the business needs profile quantify "value-added" terms to describe the expected return on investing in productivity and time.

This table may guide decisionmakers to helicopter classes that are roughly suitable. Further analysis will aid in identifying an appropriate ownership model.

The business traveler profile includes a statement of passenger characteristics and preferences regarding configuration, services, systems and amenities.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the typical business traveler is likely to be male, work in a professional, managerial or technical position, be 30–49 years old and have an income well above the average for the population.

Preferences may relate to cabin size, door size and baggage/cargo capacity to hold bulky items. Helicopter amenities may include features such as inflight telephones/connectivity, center-facing seats for inflight meetings and a limited galley.

Metrics for the traveler profile may include the extent to which the helicopter "met expectations," "bridged gaps," "overcame challenges," "provided comfort," "achieved objectives" and "advanced on goals."

A mission profile is an understanding of prospective annual use (distances to be flown, payload composition, frequency of common trips, whether nonstop travel is required or desired, trip patterns, etc).

BTS reports that most business trips in the US are taken to destinations within 250 miles of home and are by car. Trips greater than 1000 miles account for only 7% of all business trips.

The study concludes that the airplane becomes the dominant mode of business travel at distances greater than 500 miles with air travel capturing nearly 85% of business trips between 750 and 1500 miles.

It is reasonable to conclude that the helicopter is most appropriately employed at ranges less than 500 miles, particularly when considering its ability to avoid road or airport congestion.

Suitable metrics reflect whether air travel could reasonably be expected to fulfill mission requirements 85% of the time. Metrics for the mission profile may include "no service interruptions," "schedule maintained," "time to destination," "must do nonstop" and "payload objectives met."

Helicopter selection

While business helicopters are versatile strategic assets offering many benefits, they come with high value, high cost and high risk. Selection requires careful matching of aircraft and travel profile to avoid a company burdened with too much aircraft or, perhaps worse, selecting one that only results in unsatisfied expectations.

Nonpilots may believe—incorrectly—that when specifications like maximum range, maximum payload and maximum speed are quoted, these are available concurrently.

All aircraft require some compromise in performance. Some helicopter choices will be limited by payload, some will have range or density altitude issues. Others will not be able to operate in confined areas.

Moreover, larger helicopters should be evaluated using an executive/ working payload—not the maximum seating payload.

Rather than selecting an aircraft that will perform the most demanding mission nonstop under any circumstance, it is likely more prudent to opt for a corporate aircraft that meets 85% of requirements nonstop. The remainder may be accommodated either 1-stop or by electing to charter or lease. This approach may save significant acquisition and operating expenses.

Aircraft classifications are useful for licensing and maintenance requirements. Rotary-wing aircraft are most generally described and classified according to gross weight, although there has yet to be harmonized agreement regarding specific thresholds.


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