With a fleet of Airbus EC130 EcoStars, EC130 T2s, and an AS350 AStar, the company rises to Hawaii’s challenging ops environment.
By José Vásquez
Pro Pilot Art Director
But Maui is one of the many such island clusters that await human exploration. Honestly, Hawaii offers so much more than meets the eye. Just take, for instance, the resorts built here. They have amenities and room features provided for the comfort of the guests. They have mountain view shower rooms, beach view bathtubs, and hot and cold swimming pools with views of lush greenery. Most of the guests who come here never go empty-handed. Except for a bag of memories, they also take with them ideas to renovate their houses. For instance, several travelers are known to have mimicked the bathroom designs of the resorts. And it does not stop there. Additionally, many homeowners have recreated their own swimming pools (possibly with the help of firms like California Pools – https://californiapools.com/locations/salt-lake-city-south/) by taking inspiration from the resorts here. So, the islands have many things to offer, beyond the scenic views.
However, the scenic views cannot be really neglected. Needless to say that those the main attraction here. The Islands here are the tops of a chain of submerged volcanic mountains consisting of 8 major islands and 124 islets. Generally speaking, each island has mountains and numerous microclimates.
Variations in rainfall are dramatic. Mt Waialeale, on the island of Kauai, is the wettest spot in the world. And Puako, on the Big Island, has an annual rainfall of less than 10 inches. A great way to explore these stunning natural areas is flying with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (BHH).
The company operates on the 4 major islands – Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island – with flights departing from bases at HNL (Honolulu HI), ITO (Hilo HI), LIH (Lihue HI), OGG (Kahului HI), HI01 (Princeville HI – opening this summer), and HI07 (Waikoloa HI).
BHH offers the most complete views of these dynamic islands, flying over inaccessible misty plateaus, sheer ocean cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, lush valleys, evocative beaches, rain forests, and bubbling volcanoes.
In 1985, David and Patti Chevalier founded BHH in Maui, with 1 Bell 206 JetRanger and 6 employees. In 1988, David Griffin, Patti’s brother, joined the company. The couple, together with David, opened BHH’s Hilo and Waikoloa bases on the Big Island in 1992 and 1995, respectively.
BHH began operations on Kauai in 2005, and on Oahu in 2008. In 2014 BHH was purchased by Colorado-based Air Methods Corporation, and remains a subsidiary of its tourism division. In addition to earning numerous industry awards and recognitions, BHH is the only company in Hawaii to receive the FAA Diamond Award for maintenance excellence every year since 1997.
The gold standard
Quentin Koch oversees the company on behalf of Air Methods and was appointed President & General Mgr of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters in 2019. With a background in management and administration, Koch has had an all-inclusive career in aviation operations and marketing leadership.
He worked for United Airlines for 23 years, where he was director for the Hawaiian islands. “I’m proud to say we’ve continued to be the largest helicopter operator across the state, on all the major islands,” asserts Koch. “BHH set the gold standard for the industry, and the gold standard is Blue (BHH).”
This glowing reputation is supported by the latest safety technology, including a state-of-the-art terrain mapping system, emergency floats, resource allocation and of course, the best and most experienced pilots in the state of Hawaii.
“Our customers know they get great, safe service,” adds Koch. “We’re improving our facilities and focusing on their dreams to fly in a helicopter and appreciate these magnificent islands.
Our job is to fulfill each dream safely every single day.” In addition, BHH offers its Blue Hawaiian Activities program in 25 base locations throughout the islands – a concierge service providing visitors with experiences ranging from snorkeling, dining reservations, golf excursions, and, of course, helicopter tours. Such offers may be suitable for enthusiasts who consider looking at the best snorkeling options or diving options available in the tour package. They might feel enthralled as soon as they would join us on this trip.
Flight ops and fleet
BHH currently employs 30 full-time pilots, 30 full-time mechanics, and 200 additional personnel working in dispatching, ground crew, reservations, and concierge positions. The company’s fleet consists of 21 Airbus EC130 EcoStars and EC130 T2s that support the tour operations.
BHH also operates an AS350 B2 AStar used by the Dept of Interior’s Office of Aviation Services (OAS) to provide air transportation to the US Government.
While BHH’s primary focus is helicopter tours, the company is also approved for on-demand VFR pax and cargo operations, and carries out aerial photography, television/film production, private transport, and OAS contract work.
It also provides utility services, such as external load, firefighting, search and rescue (SAR), and powerline patrol. Top movie directors and television producers trust BHH to conduct their aerial photography in Hawaii. The company has provided helicopter services to shoot scenes featured in major films such as Flight of the Intruder, Crimson Tide, and Jurassic Park.
It has also participated in productions for National Geographic, The Weather Channel, and MTV, and has done dozens of TV commercials. The original founders, Dave and Patti Chevalier, worked closely with Eurocopter to develop the EC130 EcoStar, which is increasingly becoming the mainstay for helicopter tour operators flying in environmentally-sensitive areas.
EcoStars are also suitable for passenger transport, EMS, and surveillance missions. BHH EcoStars are single-pilot operated and seat up to 6 passengers – 4 in the back and 2 up front – all facing forward with excellent visibility.
The EC130 T2 is powered by a single Safran (formerly Turbomeca) Arriel 2D engine, which permits smoother operations in hot-and-high conditions, improves range and fuel efficiency, and increases power by 10%.
Other enhancements in the T2 model include a fenestron tail rotor with low external sound level, active vibration control system, Garmin G500H avionics with synthetic vision system (SVS), helicopter terrain avoidance and warning system (HTAWS), vehicle and engine multifunction display (VEMD) for better flight safety, integrated VFR day-and-night navigation system with GPS map display, and energy-absorbing seats.
All initial and recurrent training is done in Hawaii. Starting this year, the company will incorporate the use of Air Methods sims at FlightSafety Intl (FSI) in Denver CO for additional quarterly pilot training.
This will include simulation of inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (IIMC) avoidance and recovery, as well as emergency procedures that cannot be trained for in the actual helicopter.
A typical tour day
On a regular work day, pilots arrive 75 min prior to their first flight to check weather conditions, do a risk assessment, and preflight the helicopters. Tours vary, so there are no set routes. Each trip covers a certain area, and it’s up to the pilot to select the best route to make sure that customers’ needs are satisfied – weather permitting.
Passengers arrive 45 min before departure, and are welcomed by the guest relations agents. They are weighed and placed on a manifest determined by weight and balance.
Next, they watch a 7-min FAA-required preflight instructional and safety video. After that, an employee escorts the passengers to the helo, where they’re greeted by the pilot.
Pictures are taken, and then passengers are loaded into the helo by the ground crew and the pilot. The company only does cold loads and unloads to mitigate risk and create a more personal experience for the guests.
BHH pilots are also certified State of Hawaii tour guides, with detailed knowledge of Hawaiian culture, history, and environment.
They are responsible for filming each tour using an AirKnight HD4s camera system by Datatoys, which includes 3 outside and 1 inside camera.
All narrative is recorded, and guests can purchase the video upon return from their tour. Flight times range from 50 min to 2 hr 15 min. Tour traffic can be high at times, depending on the area.
On a busy day pilots fly up to 7 tours (approx 6.5 hrs). Every year, the company flies between 30,000 and 40,000 hrs. When the requirement for ADS-B Out was announced, BHH decided to also install ADS-B In so its pilots could see other traffic in their operating area. This was a great addition both for pilot situational awareness and for customer safety.
Eric Hamp was a US Army CH-47 Chinook instructor pilot/instrument examiner who completed combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He jumped aboard BHH in 2010 flying AS350 and EC130 B4/T2 helicopters, became Dir of Safety in 2014, and is now currently Dir of Operations, ensuring safe flight ops throughout the company and working closely with senior management.
Chief Pilot Noah Broderick has more than 13,000 hrs of flying in civilian operations. Upon earning his commercial, instrument, and CFII ratings for helo ops, he gave flight instruction with Robinson helicopters and did some charter work across the Pacific Northwest.
He also flew Bell 206, 407, MBB BO105, and Airbus EC135 helos offshore for PHI in the Gulf of Mexico for 2 years.
Later, he went into the training department as an instructor and check airman. He joined BHH in 2008 and began flying tours on the Big Island with Airbus EC130s and AS350s. In 2009 he became instructor, and was appointed check airman shortly after.
Broderick and his family moved to Maui in 2015 so he could pursue a management position within BHH. He has been Acting Chief Pilot since 2018. His responsibilities include pilot recruiting, training, and management, plus training and helicopter operating standards.
“Pilots are hired with a minimum of 2500 hrs as pilots in command with instrument rating. We look for previous tour experience in mountainous terrain,” explains Broderick.
“The tours we fly are very interactive, and require the pilot to be engaging with the passengers. But, most importantly, they have to fly the aircraft safely. This requires a combination of piloting skills and a friendly personality.”
Broderick adds, “Another significant part of our hiring is finding pilots who have some kind of connection to Hawaii, if they’re not from here.
Even though it’s a lovely place, Hawaii is not for everyone, and, believe it or not, it can be challenging to find and hire qualified pilots.”
BHH hires on an as-needed basis and performs initial ground training at its OGG base on Maui. Flight training normally takes place where the pilot will be based.
Aside from the required Part 135 training, pilots have to conduct island-specific tour training per FAR 136 Appendix A, which applies specifically to the Hawaiian islands.
Major training emphasis is taken into off-airport ops and weather. Despite the fact that tours depart from an airport or heliport, all other flying and landings are in remote areas, sometimes at altitudes of more than 10,000 ft. BHH also has a dedicated controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and inadvertent entry into IMC (IIMC) avoidance program. This program is essential, and provides the pilots with the tools they need for critical decision-making.
Safety program for pilots
Broderick understands Hawaii’s unique helicopter flying environment, which involves terrain, mountain winds, and quickly changing weather conditions.
Driven by a strong commitment to safety, he has implemented a program called L.I.V.E. (Leave Identifiable Visual Exits). BHH implemented this program after it reopened following the Covid-19 shutdown.
“The L.I.V.E. program is aimed at giving pilots a way to identify those critical weather decision points on a flight, and act on them before they’ve gone too far. In this way, pilots can recognize the need to make a decision and make the right decision when it counts.”
“L.I.V.E. is a play on words,” says Broderick. Don’t we all want to live?
“When a pilot is approaching an area of weather and questioning if they should continue or not, they simply ask themselves, “Can I L.I.V.E. if I continue this way?” In other words, “Can I Leave an Identifiable Visual Exit if I continue this way?” And if the answer is no, or even in question, then it’s time to alter your course, turn around, or, if you’ve already gone too far, land the helicopter.
Never get yourself into a position you don’t want to be in. This idea was sparked by conducting a root cause analysis of IIMC events in the state of Hawaii, as well as reflecting on his personal experiences. “I started flying this way years ago,” says Broderick, “and it works.
But in order for a program like this to succeed, you must have the backing of management and empower your pilots to take pride in recognizing those critical moments on a flight, and making the right decision. Without the backing of management, this type of program will fail. However,” Broderick concludes, “with management that supports this type of decision-making like we have at Blue, this program is proving very effective in helping pilots avoid an IIMC event.”
Maui maintenance facility
Dir of Maintenance John Chicosky worked 18 years for Air Methods before coming to BHH.
He is based in Maui, at the company’s primary maintenance facility, where technicians work on everything from daily maintenance to major inspections. BHH works closely with Airbus Helicopters for their specific needs.
There is a Part 145 repair station in Maui, and maintenance bases on Kauai, Oahu, Waikoloa, and Hilo. “It’s an honor to be here and work with such talented people,” says Chicosky. “My job is to coordinate and do my best to assist them in order to maintain the helicopters.
You’ve got to remember that BHH has been around for 35 years and we have a history and reputation for doing excellent maintenance work.
The company was already doing that before I got here 2 1/2 years ago.” Asked about Airbus Helicopters, Chicosky continues, “We have great support from Airbus. However, we know that because we are out here on these islands, sometimes there can be delays.
Since we need to think ahead, we order components about a year in advance, so, if there’s a delay, it’s not really going to affect us because we have enough of an inventory to maintain our aircraft. That’s what BHH has traditionally done.” Chicosky believes that safety starts with maintenance, so the hiring process is stringent.
“We’re very cautious about who we allow into our department,” he adds. “We receive a lot of résumés and we scrutinize them. We only want to add to the best that we already have.
There are about 21 helicopters, so you can plan on 1 1/2 mechanics per aircraft. At full capacity, we’re going to have 40 maintainers spread throughout the islands. We work diligently and want to make sure the aircraft are maintained correctly.”
For nearly 20 years, Helicopter Technician Patrick Ovens has been responsible for the maintenance and inspection of most of the engines. “Mostly, I do module changes, but I’m available for any maintenance needs. We don’t run out of engines here.
I check all the engine records and do the files for the rest of the aircraft and airframe parts.” Ovens has full confidence in Safran powerplants, noting, “The Arriel 2Ds used in the EC130 T2s are very reliable.” Ovens is highly regarded by Chicosky.
“Pat makes sure we always have engines available for rotation when they’re due for inspection and/or overhaul at a Safran shop,” he adds.
Future of company
BHH is thrilled about the opening of the Princeville base in the summer of 2022, and fully resuming operations at pre-pandemic levels, hopefully surpassing its previous service capacity records.
The company continues to be an industry leader, and will become more so with the opening of its Blue Hawaiian Activities program. This will allow the company to continue supporting its bases on all islands and to make additional investments in its fleet in the years ahead.
BHH already saw seen an uptick last year, and believes it will continue to see strong demand in the Hawaii market right into 2022 and beyond.