Helijets: It’s How Time Flies
By Mark McWhirter
Helijet – in business for 19 years – caters to an affluent crowd, often flying on government or governmentrelated business. Each terminal has a business centre with complimentary newspapers plus coffee and pastries for a pre-flight snack. Shuttle vans provide free transportation from the harbour helipads to the downtown core of each city.
By Mark McWhirter
By Mark McWhirter
Helijet is a truly unique company; it is North America’s only
successful helicopter airline. Operating scheduled helicopter flights
against extensive fixed-wing and surface competition is no small feat.
Sitnam, president and CEO, is a pilot with a background in the
helicopter industry. He felt that helicopters would fill a niche in the
Vancouver-Victoria business corridor, offering greater convenience than
their fixedwing competitors. A helicopter link in this busy corridor
would allow a longer business day and offer a superior service to
business travellers, who frequently commute between British Columbia’s
economic hub and its capital.
Helijet – in business for 19 years
– caters to an affluent crowd, often flying on government or
governmentrelated business. Each terminal has a business centre with
complimentary newspapers plus coffee and pastries for a pre-flight
snack. Shuttle vans provide free transportation from the harbour
helipads to the downtown core of each city.
The company’s slogan
– “how time flies” – demonstrates its understanding of how precious
time can be to its target clientele. Helijet reaches these customers by
focusing it’s advertising on locations where travellers will take note
of the company’s point-to-point service, such as provincial business
publications and downtown billboards.
This year has marked a
significant change in the way passengers are able to book their flights
with Helijet. Customers now can log on to the company’s website at any
time and make a booking for themselves, something that was not possible
in the past and is important considering the ever-increasing number of
web-savvy individuals. “The internet is huge,” says Rick Hill,
vice-president, marketing and product development, who is excited about
the international possibilities enabled by the new online service.
fare structure is simple and designed to be as convenient as possible.
There are two basic fares for each flight and prices are controlled
depending on the inventory of seats remaining. No overnight stays or
advance ticket purchase are required.
Composition of the
company’s fleet has changed significantly from its early days of
operating a single Bell 412. Helijet today operates a fleet of five
Sikorsky S-76A helicopters, two of which are configured for air
ambulance operations. The Sikorsky is the backbone of the scheduled
flights and is configured to comfortably hold 12 passengers. The
Sikorsky was selected because of its fast cruising speed, IFR
capabilities and its relatively low operating costs for a machine of
its size. The aircraft is wheeled, enabling it to move on the ground
more conveniently than a traditional helicopter on skids. The aircraft
is sleek and appealing, an aspect that cannot be underestimated for
attracting a crowd unfamiliar with helicopters.
A single Bell
JetRanger 206B is primarily used for sightseeing flights and is based
on the top of Grouse Mountain, just north of Vancouver. The charter
market, particularly the film industry, is served by the JetRanger and
a Eurocopter AS 355 TwinStar. Helijet’s helicopters can be
custompainted and have made many movie appearances. Two Robinson R-22
BETAs are operated for various radio stations and provide traffic
reports in Vancouver and Calgary.
Three fixed-wing aircraft have
been added in recent years. A single Beechcraft B1900D is utilized for
seasonal services and is outfitted in an executive 18- passenger
configuration. During the winter, this aircraft is often leased to
other operators and continues to be an alternative revenue stream for
the company. Two Beechcraft 200 Super King Airs were added to the fleet
this year to provide air ambulance services to outlying communities
throughout British Columbia.
Helijet and other rotarywing
operators have felt the impact of the sharp rise in fuel costs and
insurance premiums in recent years. Helicopters are simply not as
efficient to operate as their fixed-wing competition. Helijet is unable
to match the fares that seaplane airlines are able to charge. Instead,
it must rely on the unique abilities and benefits that helicopters can
Helijet’s fleet of Sikorsky S-76As offers many
advantages over its fixedwing, float-plane competition. Business
travellers have come to appreciate the point-to-point service that the
airline offers and the fact that there is no time spent taxiing on the
ground or in the water. The helicopters are IFR-equipped, enabling them
to operate in most bad weather and at night, something float planes are
unable to do.
Helijet offers 140 flights a week between the two
harbour helipads, with the highest frequency of flights concentrated
early and late in the business day. Scheduled service is also provided
from Vancouver International Airport with 40 flights a week to Victoria
Whistler is served during the winter from Helijet’s
facility at Vancouver International Airport utilizing the S- 76A. This
service is designed for leisure travellers who prefer not to drive the
‘Sea-to-Sky’ highway. These passengers are usually ski tourists from
The lone Beechcraft B1900D is utilized during
the summer for flights between Seattle’s Boeing Field and Campbell
River; a ground shuttle connects to Seattle-Tacoma International
Airport. This service is focused on attracting American leisure
travellers to Vancouver Island for fishing and eco-tourism.
two harbour helipads are operated by Pacific Heliport Services, a
whollyowned subsidiary of Helijet. Pacific Heliport Services oversees
the daily operations of the public helipads in addition to offering
third-party fuel sales to visiting helicopters.
Helijet has 125
employees, 20 of them involved in maintenance of the helicopters and
fixed-wing aircraft. Heavy maintenance is contracted out, while
maintenance staff attends to all line repairs and installations. The
Sikorsky S-76A is the workhorse of the fleet, averaging close to 150
flight hours a month. It takes a lot of hard work by the maintenance
staff to keep the helicopters flying on time and on schedule, something
that Helijet prides itself on. Their hard work is certainly shown by
Helijet’s exemplary safety record, for which it has won international
awards. Ken Glaze, vice-president, safety and business development, is
thankful for the hard work and long hours that the staff puts in every
In the past few years Helijet has moved into air ambulance
services to diversify its operations and expand revenue opportunities.
As the province’s largest air ambulance provider, Helijet has four
aircraft configured for air ambulance work: two S-76A helicopters and
the two newlyacquired Beechcraft 200 Super King Airs.
Winter Olympics will be a significant tourist attraction for Vancouver
and the surrounding area, albeit with a short-lived influx of visitors.
Helijet is a ‘Spirit of Vancouver’ partner and also had a role in
securing the Olympic bid for the city. The company is concerned about
possible airspace restrictions that might be associated with the games.
recently announced a partnership with Executive Transport Airways to
provide additional capacity between Vancouver and Victoria Harbours,
using a Sikorsky S-61. Executive Transport Airways is a newly-formed
division of the Coulson Group of Companies, which is the largest civil
operator of the S-61 in North America. The contract is a one-year deal,
although an extension is possible. The companies had previously been
engaged in a legal dispute over the intentions of Coulson beginning
scheduled services between the harbour helipads, but both sides felt
this partnership is in the best interests of both companies.