FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
London Air motto: "Invest with a long term focus and always buy the best equipment for the job."
IGA grocery stores, drug stores and a resort hideaway allow robust use of bizjets and helos with 3 AW139s, 5 Learjet 75s, 3 Challenger 605s plus on order 5 Learjet 85s and a Global 7000.
By Grant McLaren
LAS President and CEO Wynne Powell and Ops Mgr and Chief Pilot Dylan Thomas at LAS's YVR (Vancouver BC, Canada) hangar with 1 of the company's 3 AgustaWestland AW139s. This de-ice capable AW139 is the latest addition to the LAS rotary-wing fleet.
London Air Services, based at YVR (Vancouver BC), is the aviation division of a 112 year old Vancouver grocery and food distribution company. Parent company HY Louie has continually expanded from a family business—with 13 family members living in rooms above a tiny general store—to the 2nd largest privately held company in British Columbia with now over 10,000 employees and flagship divisions including London Drugs and IGA (Independent Grocers Assn).
In 1999 the group branched out into corporate aviation, taking delivery of the 1st Bombardier Learjet 45 delivered in Canada. And in 2006 capabilities were expanded with the 1st acquisition of 3 AgustaWestland AW139 medium lift twin-engine helicopters.
One of the guiding principles of the H Y Louie Group and LAS has been to invest with a long-term focus and to always buy the best equipment for the job. "We make an investment when we believe the long-term decision is correct to
do so," says LAS President and CEO Wynne Powell. "When we branched out into the helicopter business a few years ago we looked for the best equipment for our required missions and the AW139 stood out as the absolute winner."
LAS currently operates 3 AW139s —the latest delivery a de-ice capable model—in addition to a fixed-wing charter fleet which includes 5 new Bombardier Learjet 75s, 3 Challenger 605s with 5 Learjet 85s and a Bombardier Global Express 7000 on order. On average, AW139s are utilized 200 hrs/yr each with a primary mission of supporting the company's Sonora Resort 112 miles north of Vancouver. LAS's VTOL lift is also deployed for assorted ad-hoc charter, 3rd party flight training and occasional in-house corporate transport.
Selection of the AW139, safety attributes and operating costs
LAS's Challenger 604s (above) were recently upgraded to a trio of new Challenger 605s. The 605s are all WiFi-capable and have the legs to operate to Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia with just a single fuel stop.
In 2002 the HY Louie Group acquired the Sonora Resort, a place with deluxe accommodations and in an isolated location. It's located up on the wild and remote coast of British Columbia. And it has been voted the best remote resort in Canada.
The immediate challenge was how to safely and efficiently move Sonora Resort guests from Vancouver to Sonora Island. Overland options were not practical due to the distance and long surface commute times involved. Seaplanes would have provided a cost effective option but such options are daylight only and highly weather dependent. A helicopter shuttle service was determined to be the ideal option, providing quick 24 hour access to this high-end resort.
The first 2 AW139 helicopters were acquired in 2006 and 2008 while the 3rd—a de-ice rotor blades capable model—went into service in 2010. AW139 commutes to the Sonora Resort are .08 flight hours, over the 112 mile leg, at a cruising speed of 150 kts and an 825 lb/hr fuel burn. During high season the AW139s move up to 240 passengers a day between YVR and Sonora.
"With the AW139s we're able to take 12 passengers, with generous baggage allowances, from YVR to Sonora. And we usually have capability to make it roundtrip on a single fuel uplift," says LAS Operations Mgr and Chief Pilot Dylan Thomas. "The AW139's Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67C engines have the power to accomplish the takeoff and fly away on a Category A profile, so that even in the event of an engine failure we are still okay with 14 pax and baggage.
5 Learjet 75s, delivered in December 2013, replaced a previous fleet of Learjet 45s (above). On order are 5 Learjet 85s which will provide better lift and replace the Learjet 75s in the future.
The automatic flight control systems (AFCS) on the AW139 helos are so stable that we can stay within 10 to 15 feet on our altitude just with trim. And we can land with assist from a fully autopilot coupled approach in 50 kt headwinds, in a rainstorm at night. All this with relatively low workloads. At Sonora we have a helipad, on-site fuel, a GPS approach and very comfortable crew accommodations for our pilots when we need to stay overnight."
While Sonora operations make up about 75% of LAS's helicopter utilization, the company offsets the cost of its AW139 investment with ad-hoc charter, in-house corporate use and flight training services for AgustaWestland and a diverse range of clientele, from the US government to offshore oil helicopter operators.
LAS's AW139 charter ops cover everything from golfing trips and commutes between YVR and ski resorts at Whistler Mountain to medical organ transplants and a wide range of diverse charter requests. "We'll fly real estate speculators to look at new highways and building sites.
We've taken the board of directors of a gravel pit company to visit 7 different gravel pits in a single day. And we routinely take executives of a cosmetics company (1 1/2 flight hrs with the AW139) to visit their kelp farm and processing operations," says Thomas.
LAS looked at other helicopters before deciding on the AW139
Director of Maintenance Chris Lacroix has overall responsibility for fixed and rotary-wing maintenance at LAS's YVR base. Maintenance requirements have been straight-forward on the AW139 fleet to date.
Initially, says Powell, LAS looked at a number of helicopter options before settling on the AW139. "An AgustaWestland AW109 would have been too small for our typical passenger loads while the Sikorsky S76 is older technology and would not accommodate our passengers and their luggage requirements. We looked at used Sikorsky S61s but this goes against our approach of always having the newest and most advanced equipment. The 19-seat Sikorsky S92 would have handled the Sonora mission but it's a little too large and operating costs of the S92 are quite high."