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Aftermarket Magic

Successful companies don’t sell products – they solve problems. In the somewhat unlikely community of Stoney Creek, Ont., there’s a one-stop completion centre that definitely embodies this principle.


October 20, 2009
By Drew McCarthy


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Successful companies don’t sell products – they solve problems. In the somewhat unlikely community of Stoney Creek, Ont., there’s a one-stop completion centre that definitely embodies this principle.
 

20a  
Heli-Lynx Helicopters has a worldwide reputation for its more than 65 upgrades currently operating on five continents around the world.

 

Since 2002, Heli-Lynx Helicopters, a Canadian-owned and operated MRO shop, has gained worldwide reputation for its more than 65 aircraft upgrades currently operating on five continents around the world. How did they come so far so fast?

Part of the story begins with Heli-Lynx president Mike Whitter. A graduate of the Canadore College aviation maintenance program in North Bay, Ont., Whitter entered the workforce in the late 1980s. Experience is a valuable teacher and Whitter quickly adapted to the real world of fixing helicopters in the bush. He spent six years with Abitibi Helicopters, maintaining helicopters in all kinds of weather and under extremely challenging conditions.
 
Looking for a change and a new direction, Whitter decided to leave the life of a bush mechanic behind. His time in the field had been well spent. During those six years, Whitter had begun to develop some very clear ideas about how things could be improved in these environments.

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The seeds of Heli-Lynx had been planted, but the next stage in the company’s prenatal development was to prove to be just as crucial. In the mid-90s, Whitter joined Eurocopter Canada in Fort Erie, Ont. Working in the pristine and precise environment of an international OEM was light years away from his earlier adventures. It was also the kind of experience he needed to close the circle.

“At Eurocopter, I learned about process, detail and quality control,” says Whitter. “I also learned about the AS350. By the time I left the company, I must have had every last nut and bolt from that machine in my hand at one time or another.”
 

21b  
(L to R): Matt Trahearn, owner/technical director; Gerard Palmer, chief operating officer/chief test pilot; Hoss Golanbari, general manager/marketing director; Mike Whitter, owner/chief executive officer.
 
 
21c  
The AS355FX series has become a popular solution for corporate flying that has led the company into high-end custom interior completions.

 
23  
Heli-Lynx re-engineered the entire 355 wiring system from“the point of view of a mechanic.” (Photo by Brian McNair)  

Identifying small operators with one or two aircraft as being under serviced, Whitter became a partner at Panterra Heli Support in Beamsville, Ont. Five years later, Whitter sold his share of Panterra and teamed up with fellow Transport Category AME Matt Trahearn to open Heli-Lynx Helicopters Ltd.

Trahearn’s background and experience on the AS350 and AS355 series helicopters made the new partnership a perfect fit. Trahearn became technical director. Together they began to look at what it would take to seriously upgrade the AS355.
 
The first and most easily identifiable aftermarket solution on the AS350 and AS355 series was an improved wiring system. Says Whitter, “We asked ourselves, why it was so complicated? Why does it have to be so hard to work on?” They looked long and hard at the technology and then proceeded to reengineer the entire system from “the point of view of a mechanic.”

“What we did was simplify the 355 electrical system,” says Whitter, “which made it easier to fix and also more robust, so that it now requires less maintenance.” The simplified wiring harness, which works against the adverse effects of vibrations, abrasions and moisture, has easily removable parts. (Details matter and Heli-Lynx includes very easy-to-read wiring diagrams with every upgrade.) The company now manufactures all of its own wiring harnesses for the AS350 and AS355 series in one of the workshops right on its own premises.

With the wiring solution completed on the AS355 Twin Star, the team moved on to look at other upgrades on the machine. The next key upgrade was the choice of the Honeywell LTS101 series powerplant for the AS350 series of aircraft. They continued to add other elements, such as the AS355 N model tail rotor blade, to what is now called the FX generation of STC options. “Our market is based on the aging fleet, says Whitter, “so systems-based rather than mission-based STCs are our focus.”

Since its inception Heli-Lynx has been on a steady growth path. It attained its Transport Canada manufacturing approval late 2007. It now designs, develops, manufactures and installs and sells its FX kits based for a vast variety of mission requirements. The company has in-house engineering, electrical, avionics, powerplant, manufacturing and composites capabilities.
 
All of this takes place at its 106-acre airfield on Mud Street E. in Stoney Creek. The property, purchased in 2002, includes a 3,000+ ft. runway and 3,250 sq. ft. of working space spread across seven converted hangars. The company has plans to build a larger facility at some point in the future, but as Whitter says, “We won’t be doing anything for a couple of years. We like to earn our growth and for the time being we are managing very well with what we have.”

The FX group of STC options has many possible combinations based on the needs of the operator. The AS350FX1 (see sidebar: 350FX1 STC) and AS350FX2 are essentially the same set of STCs in all but one important way. The FX1 runs on a Honeywell LTS 101 600A3A engine, while the FX2 runs on a Honeywell LTS 101 700D-2.

“This,” according to company marketing director Hossein Golanbari, “makes the 350FX2 the ultimate utility machine.”  Golanbari knows of what he speaks. While he has only been with Heli-Lynx for about a year, he was the director of maintenance at Abitibi Helicopters for four years. In 2005, Whitter first approached Abitibi as potential launch customers for the FX upgrades. Whitter had already completed the prototype for a U.S. customer and Golanbari and the owners of Abitibi liked what they saw. They became sold on the idea and the company has now converted twelve of its aircraft, with the prospect of still doing more in years to come.

The success of the 355’s upgrades soon gave rise to questions about upgrading 350’s. The step was easy enough for the company to take and the 350 kits were created. About 80 per cent of all of the upgrade kits sold for the 350 are for the workhorse FX2. The FX1 is what Golanbari considers the ideal upgrade for tour operators and VIP private operators.
 

  Transport Canada Approvals
Heli-Lynx is a Transport Canada Approved manufacturing and maintenance organization.  All of its available products are initially approved by Transport Canada, followed on by
approvals from the FAA and EASA.
Transport Canada Approved Maintenance Organization 45-02 approvals include:

  • Aircraft; AS350 Series, AS355 Series, EC120
  • Specialized Ratings; Structures (Composite and Sheet Metal), Avionics (Radio Systems)
  • Transport Canada Approved Manufacturing Organization approvals include:
  • Manufacture and Certification of Aeronautical Products

   

The AS355FX series has become a popular solution for corporate flying. This has led the company into the realm of high-end custom interior completions. Golanbari works with his interior suppliers and designers to create the ideal interior for his corporate clients. This is a very critical time frame for Golanbari to meet and listen to his clients to get them the very best in instrument panel layouts, interior colors and materials.

The business has begun to expand in other ways. Earlier in the year, a brand new green AS350B2 arrived at the facility to receive a full completion. “This aircraft was truly a signature aircraft,” says Golanbari. “We just went out and asked them what they wanted, and by working closely with them, created the ideal ultra plush interior platform that they had in mind.”

Whitter, Trahearn and Golanbari are all trained AMEs with a passion for quality. Precision, detail, and cleanliness are basic values at Heli-Lynx. As the company has continued to expand with the help of Gerard Palmer as COO, Whitter no longer does much hands-on work in the shop. Palmer brings years of business and operations background that this company needed with the added growth. Whitter now sees his role as communicator and policy maker – instilling in his employees the same values that have made the company a success. He does, however, still like to paint. “It’s always been one of my favourite things,” he smiles. “I just love that kind of detail work and they way it looks when it’s done.”

But while quality work is the key to success, recording it is every bit as important. “It’s paperwork that sells an aircraft,” says Golanbari. “We provide full documentation that details the scope of work performed on each aircraft that leaves the Heli Lynx facil-ity.” That means that all of the necessary documents and work orders are ready for national and international inspection, whenever required.

At its core Heli-Lynx is a heavy maintenance provider. Its largest market is Canada, followed by New Zealand, Australia, U.S. and Europe. It also has clients in exotic locations such as Trinidad, the island of Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

“What we sell is reliability,” says Whitter, “All of the parts we use in our STC are off the shelf and they can be locally procured at aviation supply chains around the world.”

Customer Service, reliability, quality, documentation and efficiency, that’s what Heli-Lynx offers its clients. In just seven short years, Heli-Lynx has grown to be a very strong contender as a world class MRO.
 
The company is now one of the foremost designers and developers of aftermarket systems based STC products for the Eurocopter AS350 and AS355 series aircraft in the world.

But Heli-Lynx has not forgotten its roots. “We’re just mechanics,” says Whitter. “Our background is in keeping aircraft in the air.” And, while that is certainly true, the people at Heli-Lynx have clearly learned a whole lot more along the way.

But in the end, it all comes down to one idea. As Whitter explains, “It doesn’t matter where it came from, it’s a Heli-Lynx product when it leaves.”

 
350FX1 STC

  • Simplified VFR Electrical System eliminating the entire European
    designed system including associated Printed Circuit Cards with
    environmentally sealed connections eliminating connection corrosion and
    200% duty system relays with parts that can be procured locally from
    your local aviation supplier
  • Electroluminescent Instrument Lighting System eliminating the OEM Fiber
    Optic system that was prone to failure and continual repair due to the
    poor materials used and its installation behind the instrument panel
  • Enlarged Cord Tail Rotor and Tailboom Strake providing increased Tail
    Rotor Authority at all flight regimes specifically heavy load / low
    speed operations
  • Digital LCD Powerplant Instruments providing clear unmistakable engine
    indications with a drastic reduction in purchase and repair costs
    readily available in North America
  • Powerplant Gearbox Vent introduced into the Exhaust path eliminating
    the unsightly overboard venting of oil overboard through the original
    OEM airframe vent
  • Honeywell LTS 101 600A3A and 700 D2 Engine with a proven maintainable design with readily available parts
  • Supplementary Generation FX products to exclusively support additional
    mission requirements such as additional Oil Filters, Fuel Filters and
    Inlet Barrier Filters
 
   

   
22a  
The Heli-Lynx team.

 
22b  
Heli-Lynx provides full documentation that details the scope of work performed on each aircraft that leaves its facility.  


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