Editor’s Comment: From the silver screen to saving lives

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Urban Aeronautics Ltd., a leading Israeli aerospace company, has announced an agreement to provide four CityHawk VTOL aircraft to Hatzolah Air for emergency medical service applications.

“Hatzolah’s pre-order of four air ambulance CityHawks is an amazing show of confidence in our programme and in our company,” said Nimrod Golan-Yanay, CEO of Urban Aeronautics. “We look forward to delivering on our promise to revolutionise urban air mobility and the emergency response capabilities of major cities across the world.”

Hatzolah Air will become Urban Aeronautics’ official sales representative and distributor to EMS organisations worldwide. Both companies earlier signed an MOU to develop, produce, and market the CityHawk aircraft.

What makes this announcement so significant? Just take a look at the CityHawk! It’s like a vehicle straight out of the cult movie Blade Runner.

A lightweight twin-engine VTOL with a unique compact footprint that can be optimised for urban transportation or emergency response. CityHawk will utilise jet propulsion, with cabin space that’s 20%–30% larger and will be much quieter than any helicopter. The aircraft is planned to complete its development and FAA certification for EMS use and be ready for production within three to five years.

Urban Aeronautics’ engineers are now working closely with Hatzolah’s experts to tailor the CityHawk flying ambulance to their specific operational requirements. The crew will consist of a pilot, a patient plus companion, two EMS personnel, and a complete suite of onboard life support equipment.

While it may be up to five years away, the CityHawk may well be the first practical use of a VTOL platform, rather than just fantasy models that are destined only for the super wealthy to play about in!

As a kid, I was told never to look over towards the scene of traffic accident out of respect, and rightly so. But I have to say that when I see my first CityHawk rushing to the scene of an accident I will just take one quick glance at this remarkable piece of aviation technology.

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Editor’s Comment: Do the oil and gas helicopter fleets have a long-term future?

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The announcement by the Danish parliament that it intends to abandon its planned round of tenders for oil exploration and stop all production within the Danish sector of the North Sea by 2050, was a shock to many observers within the industry. Although Denmark intends to provide support to local towns that are heavily dependent on the oil industry, there has been no mention as to what, if any support, will be provided to the helicopter companies that fly to the oil platforms in the region.

Denmark’s Minister of Climate, Energy and Supply, Dan Jørgensen, said: “I am very pleased that we now have a broad agreement on the future of the North Sea, and I would like to thank the parties for their constructive approach to the negotiations. The agreement sets a new, green course for the North Sea, and at the same time strikes a really good balance, and it benefits everyone. We are now putting an end to the fossil era, and drawing a straight line between our activities in the North Sea and the Climate Act’s goal of climate neutrality in 2050.”

The long-term impact that this may have on helicopter operators that support the oil and gas industry is only now being discussed. As the world tries to remove its reliance on fossil fuels, those myriad industries that support the oil and gas companies may well have to look for alternative sources of revenue in the future. While offshore helicopter operations will comfortably continue for at least another decade, operators such as Babcock are confident that nothing drastic will change in the immediate future. This is demonstrated by its preparation of three Airbus H175s for the Danish register, which will operate from Esbjerg. This will be the first time that Babcock has operated from Denmark, and marks the start of a five-year agreement. So, although things may ultimately change in the end, as the world seeks for more environmentally friendly sources of energy, helicopters will in some way be helping this to eventually become a reality.

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Editor’s Comment: Investing in care and concern over ‘the City’

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A new three-year charity partnership has been announced between Aberdeen Standard Investments and London’s Air Ambulance. Having provided support since 2012, the new agreement lasts until 2023 and will continue to provide lifesaving funding to London’s Air Ambulance service, whose trauma team treat critically injured patients on the roadside and provide emergency care to 10 million people living and working London’s greater area.

As the only charity of its kind in London, the Air Ambulance Charity can perform life-saving medical procedures that are normally only possible within a hospital emergency room, at the scene of the accident. The service has treated 14,761 critically injured patients and the partnership has allowed both Aberdeen Standard Investments and London’s Air Ambulance to increase the helicopter fleet to two in 2016.

Claire Drummond, Head of Charitable Giving for Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: “We are really pleased to announce our continued support of London’s Air Ambulance and help the charity to maintain its vital first aid service. With a large workforce based in London, we are proud to be associated with the work they do and are pleased to be delivering a positive impact on the communities in which we operate. London is incredibly fortunate to be home to this world-class medical charity and it deserves as much support as it can get.”

 Jonathan Jenkins, CEO of London’s Air Ambulance Charity, said: “At this challenging time, we are especially delighted to hear our valued long-term partner, Aberdeen Standard Investments, has extended its partnership with the charity up to 2023. Since 2012 this partnership has enabled London’s Air Ambulance to attend critically injured patients across the capital. We look forward to continuing this vital partnership with the London team over at Aberdeen Standard Investments and engaging staff with some exciting events and volunteering.”

With many investment companies seeking to reduce their costs at such a time of economic stress, it gives one a warm glow inside that behind those cold, faceless glass office blocks that populate ‘the City’ in London, those working inside have a heart of gold by investing in people that they may well never meet, but in some way, just might help save their life if the worst should happen.

Mince pie in the sky…tastes so much better!

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VIP helicopter charter company, Apollo Air Services has introduced mince pies to its flights this Christmas after research suggests that it could be one of the best in-flight snacks due to its spicy and intense flavours. It is suggested that once in the air, salt is 20%-30% less intense and sugar 15%-20% less due to high altitudes. However, fruity aromas, acids as well as spicy and intense flavours are far more stable with Apollo finding the optimum altitude to enjoy the UK’s much loved treat is 3,800 feet for the best tasting mince piece.

To celebrate the mighty mince pie, Apollo Air Services has launched a “Mince Pie In The Sky” flight package for those wanting to beat the Christmas traffic and get home (or to a chosen festive location) in style and safety. The package is customisable to the passenger’s chosen take off and drop off locations, and involves a number of yuletide additions including a Christmas hamper filled with mince pies and mulled wine, decorations in the cabin and (optional) Christmas songs on the sound system, for a fun and festive flight to get into the Christmas spirit, whilst soaring over the holiday traffic.

Those wanting to treat their loved ones can purchase a gift voucher for the “Mince Pie In the Sky” experience, a 30-minute festive flight over a chosen location, complete with mince pies and mulled wine onboard.

Steve Graham, Apollo Air Services, “Mince Pies are firm favourite over the Christmas season and we thought it would be great fun to find out the altitude where they taste the best and celebrate the greatly loved pie this festive season. Mince pies aside, we are able to offer our clients a safe and reliable way to travel to their loved ones this holiday season. This year, more than ever, it is important to make the most of time spent with family and friends, as well making sure you are keeping yourself and loved ones safe. By adding some Christmas touches to our aircraft like a hamper, decorations and Christmas music, we hope to bring a bit of fun and Christmas cheer to our passengers after what has been a difficult year for many.”

Editor’s Comment: You can’t keep a good thing down

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In late September, Airbus delivered its 1,400th H135 to the French operator Mont Blanc, adding to a fleet of more than 20 H135 and H145 helicopters currently in service with the operator to provide HEMS in France. The milestone capped off a 20-plus-year history for the programme and cements the H135 as a leader in the HEMS industry, currently holding 25% of the global market share for HEMS and boasting over 650 units in service.

“As the benchmark for HEMS helicopters, the H135 is the safest, most reliable and most economic platform – arriving at the scene on time… every time,” explained Martin Schneider, Airbus Helicopters’ Head of the H135 programme. “There are more than 650 H135s in emergency medical service duties, operated by thousands of pilots and medics who protect and save lives each day.”

Since first entering into service in 1996, the H135 family of helicopters has gone through regular improvements in performance and capabilities. To respond to the unique needs of HEMS operators, the H135 programme has taken an active role by conducting conferences, interviews, questionnaires, and surveys, as well as using Reliability Data Group customer input and reliability figures.

Recent global events have demonstrated the need for reliable, adaptable and cost-efficient operating helicopters and it’s clear that Airbus has produced a winner. The latest H135 version has an increased maximum take-off weight of 90 kg and a useful load increase of up to 225 kg, allowing HEMS operators to explore new possibilities for the care provided during transit.

Feedback from medics and pilots is that the H135 is one of the easiest helicopters to operate, particularly in confined spaces where many HEMS aircrews find themselves. A landing site may be next to a major road or a playing field in the suburbs. Either way, the H135 looks set to continue to answer the call for many years to come.

Editor’s Comment: High on five!

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An invite from Airbus Helicopters to have a close inspection and flight in its new H145 D-3 last week at Oxford Airport was too good an opportunity to miss. The chance to see what difference the new five-bladed set-up makes to what is already a remarkable helicopter.

The H145 currently has no equivalent that offers such a multi-role capability and transportation capacity while remaining compact. This latest version of the H145 family offers an improved 150 kg useful load, which means it has the best useful load to maximum take-off weight ratio for a light twin helicopter.

But, with all technical jargon put to one side, the first question I was asked when we touched back down on the helipad by Airbus staff was “What did you think of it, Glenn?”

“It’s one of the most impressive helicopters I have flown in. The Helionix avionics system means that even I could have landed it,” was my reply.

While the pilot remained politely quiet at my comment, it was obvious that what Airbus has on its hands is one of the most technologically advanced and pilot-friendly helicopters currently out there. The advantage that any customer has is to convert their earlier four-bladed H145 D-2 to this mind-blowing five-bladed D-3 by aid of a simple retrofit kit supplied by Airbus.

With a cockpit equipped with the innovative Helionix avionics system, an automatic landing system and the ability to fly hands-off from any helipad, the new D-3 will certainly turn heads and the helicopter market over the next few years.

Editor’s Comment: A duty-bound service

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The announcement that Bristow’s contract to provide SAR services for the UK has been extended to 2026 was greeted with little surprise. Let’s face it, the company has been doing an outstanding job. Having flown more than 60,000 SAR operational hours in the UK and conducted more than 15,000 SAR sorties, during which more than 7,000 people have been rescued. With such a record, its obvious that the UK is in safe hands but also begs the question of where crews for the cockpit and rear cabin will be found. Currently, many come from former military units and although the pool shows no signs of drying up, there surely is the need for those from civilian backgrounds to be given the opportunity to join the SAR force.

It was a question raised following a recent interview that I conducted with a leading helicopter training firm. With the UK’s future SAR contract now being discussed within the industry, the need for training crews has been factored into the requirements. Often, it is the duty SAR aircraft and aircrew that are ‘borrowed’ to instruct new pilots and rear crew around alerts. It has never been an ideal situation and can at times delay trainees becoming qualified quickly. It is a dilemma that all global civilian SAR organisations currently face. There needs to be a solution and it looks as though the creation of civilian-owned-and-run SAR training schools might be the way to go. Staffed by ex-military-trained SAR operators along with those from the civilian world may offer the best solution for the future?

The benefits are there, it’s just a case of those with the business foresight to take the leap now. Fortunately, a few organisations have, and are setting procedures and facilities in place to train future SAR pilots and technicians, whether from a civilian or military background.

The big benefit? If ever you are a lost at sea, you’ll know that when that helicopter comes into sight, it will likely be the duty aircraft and crew that’s solely dedicated to ensuring your survival.

Editor’s Comment: What price do you put on a life?

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Rescue helicopters are expensive, there’s no way of getting away from it. From their initial purchase and their cost per flight hour, to the investment made in the highly skilled crews needed to operate them. This doesn’t get cheaper no matter what generation of helicopter comes on to the market. Sure, maintenance costs might be reduced over a period of time, but ‘choppers’ are pricey and vital. With many rescue platforms relying on donations or sponsorship it’s been inevitable this year that due to the global COVID-19 crisis, budgets have been slashed in order for governments to maintain some stability of their shrinking resources.

A typical example of the crises facing rescue helicopters is demonstrated by California’s Sonoma County Sheriff’s helicopter rescue unit. Having saved two firefighters who had become trapped on a ridge in a forest fire on 28 August, just days later it’s been revealed that the Sonoma County Sheriff’s helicopter programme, which conducts nearly 900 missions per year, is at the risk of being eliminated due to budget shortfalls.

The programme is known as Henry One. With his department losing US$14 million due to major budget cuts, Sheriff Mark Essick says the rescue chopper programme could be a victim of that financial shortfall.

“Henry One is about a $2.2 million project that we spend every year, and it certainly is a project that we are looking at very carefully, closely,” said Sheriff Essick. “And certainly, it is at risk at this point.” Budget cuts or not, the remarkable programme has saved lives all across Sonoma County’s 1,600 square miles.

Henry One has assisted in police pursuits and rescued hundreds of people all along the miles of rugged Sonoma coastline, pulling individuals from remote beaches, cliffs, mountain tops and other difficult areas that only a trained crew and helicopter can reach.

The Sheriff’s Office hopes that funding for the life-saving programme can be found as the county faces budget shortages compounded by the financial challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

“My hope is that our community will really see the value of the helicopter. It is a costly programme, yes, but it absolutely saves lives every day,” said Sheriff Essick.

CAE expands instructor-led online courses

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CAE has announced the expansion of its live online instructor-led maintenance training program, now available for Bombardier, Dassault, Gulfstream aircraft types and specific helicopter programs. The courses offer real-time teaching in a virtual classroom setting where trainees can interact with a course instructor and peers.
“We are thrilled to expand our virtual classrooms to support business jet operators at a time when it is needed most. Maintenance technicians are now able to take advantage of high-quality instructor-led training online, keeping them healthy and their operations flying safely,” said Nick Leontidis, CAE’s Group President, Civil Aviation Training Solutions. “Throughout the pandemic, we have strived to find new ways of delivering essential training, and this forward-thinking approach is a prime example of how we are supporting our customers during unprecedented times.”
Introduced for helicopter platforms in 2016, CAE now offers online instructor-led maintenance training courses to more than 15 operators and 200 individuals. Maintenance technicians can study anytime and anywhere with internet connection.
“Flexible schedules and online training solutions especially at a time when we need it the most are ideal and beneficial for our maintenance technicians,” said Brad Meineke, Engineering Manager P.T. Hevilift Aviation Indonesia. “CAE’s virtual instructor-led comprehensive courses offer the latest curriculum by ensuring safety for our maintenance technicians”.
“CAE’s online courses have allowed CHC the ability to maintain compliance to our regulatory and scheduling requirements for maintenance training despite the travel restrictions during these unprecedented times,” said Fiona Lowndes, Global Engineer Training Manager, CHC Helicopter. “This online instructor-led training program allows individuals country wide to attend a single session, enables team engagement and is particularly beneficial for the team at CHC considering Australia’s size and our remote bases of operation”.
CAE’s online instructor-led courses are designed to offer maximum flexibility for maintenance training, including interactive demonstrations, and courseware compliance to all regulatory and scheduling guidelines. The Webex-based platform gives the unique opportunity for maintenance technicians to arrange their learning process according to their needs and is regularly refreshed with up to date content.

Editor’s Comment: “Skids are for kids”

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The title of this comment was taken from a patch I once saw on the shoulder of an Army Air Corps pilot which, at the time, related to the introduction of the Lynx AH.9 into British Army service. The new variant replaced the skids of the older generation Lynx AH.7 with a wheeled tricycle undercarriage as part of the upgraded. Although a tongue-in-cheek dig at the older generation aircrews still flying the earlier model, it once again opened up the debate of whether the choice of skids or wheels on a helicopter is better.

While many operators within the commercial market choose a wheeled undercarriage, simply for ease of handling on the ground, there’s still a market for skids as recently demonstrated by Leonardo’s test flights of an AW169. The prototype, known as AC4, is also fitted with composite inward-canting stabiliser endplates. Other changes to the airframe are the deletion of the sponsons, which housed the main undercarriage, so bringing an overall weight saving of around 100 kg, which can be converted into payload.

The reasons for developing such a variant may simply be due to where the AW169 fits within the global marketplace. It also allows Leonardo the option of taking on the likes of Airbus Helicopters with its H145 within specific industry markets where previously the wheeled-AW169 would not have been suitable or even considered. On the other hand, it’s also a demonstration of Leonardo’s enterprising ability to get the most from all of the models within its extensive helicopter portfolio – long may it continue.