Making Their Mark
Innovation, flexibility, creative management and a strong commitment to developing some of the safest, most reliable aircraft available has helped Airbus Helicopters Canada make an indelible mark on the Canadian helicopter landscape for more than three decades.
By Matt Nicholls
Innovation, flexibility, creative management and a strong commitment to developing some of the safest, most reliable aircraft available has helped Airbus Helicopters Canada make an indelible mark on the Canadian helicopter landscape for more than three decades. It certainly doesn’t hurt there’s a passionate team of loyal employees and customers supporting the process, either.
|The 600th Eurocopter helicopter for the Canadian market is delivered to Héli-Inter Inc. of St. Hubert, Que.
(Photo courtesy of Airbus Helicopters Canada)
Rebranded Airbus Helicopters Canada earlier this year, the Fort Erie, Ont.-based company, with customer support centres in Richmond, B.C. and Montreal, manufactures, markets, sells and assembles some of the most reliable and technologically-advanced helicopters in the world.
Just how successful has it become? Airbus Helicopters Canada supports some 190 operators using more than 680 helicopters nationwide. It’s also one of 21 international subsidiaries, which are part of a worldwide network of service centres, training facilities, distributors and certified agents.
Airbus Helicopters Canada is a world leader in the development of composite components for the global Airbus Helicopters fleet and supply chain, including the EC130 engine cowlings and fairings, EC135 stabilizers and other components, EC145 engine cowlings and EC225 cowlings. Since opening its doors with only nine employees in its first year of operation, the company has grown to more than 250 employees and is one of the most important corporations in the Niagara region, contributing significantly to the local economy on both a financial and community support perspective.
“I am very proud to lead a company which is has had so many successes over the past 30 years – and these success come directly from our people,” Romain Trapp, president and CEO of Airbus Helicopters Canada told Helicopters. Trapp is particularly proud to point out that several Fort Erie, Ont., employees have more than 15 year’s experience with the company, and two have been their from the inception. “Their dedication, engagement, talent . . . They are the wealth of the company and their talent has led to our achievements over the past 30 years.”
Trapp notes that based on the total Canadian helicopter fleet of aircraft less than 30 years old, 55 per cent of all turbine helicopters flying in Canada are Airbus Helicopters – a figure he says highlights Airbus’ success since the company commenced operations in Canada in 1984. “Why is this the case? It’s because of the quality of the product, the performance of the product,” Trapp says. “Many of the helicopters in Canada fly in remote locations, harsh environments, so reliability is important.”
It’s an apt point, as some 90 per cent of the helicopters flying here are doing so for utility missions: forestry, mining, oil and gas. There are smaller market segments – six per cent for corporate, two per cent for EMS, and an additional two per cent for law enforcement – but the utility market dominates the marketplace. There is growth potential here, Trapp suggests, but focusing on providing safe, reliable, and technologically advanced utility helicopters remains paramount.
“In terms of number of aircraft that we deliver on an annual basis, Canada represents an average of five per cent,” Trapp says. “And only a few people know this, but Canada has the second largest fleet of civil helicopters, which is why it is such an important market for us. We know that if our product is successful in Canada, in a harsh operating environment, they are going to be successful all over the world.”
The Durability Factor
Customers who have populated their fleets with various models of Airbus helicopters can attest to their durability, performance, technological competence and reliability. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests is one such example. Tasked with the challenge of providing forestry, firefighting, search and rescue, and wildlife management services in hundreds of miles of rugged, remote locations, the ministry’s aviation division is reliant on helicopters to get the job done. With bases in Dryden, Thunder Bay, Timmins, Sudbury, and Muskoka, the OMNRF is the single largest Canadian operator of EC130 B4 helicopters and has had a long history with Airbus products since introducing a twin-engine MBB BK117 into its fleet in 1987. The ministry currently has seven EC130s and an AS350 B2.
|OMNR pilots and clients are impressed with the EC130 airframe. (Photo courtesy of Airbus Helicopters Canada)
The OMNRF fleet logs between 3,700 to 4,500 hours per year with 33 per cent of the flight hours devoted to firefighting, 66 per cent of the flight hours to resource management duties including wildlife surveys, fish stocking, reconnaissance, compliance monitoring, enforcement missions and more. Needless to say, reliability is critical.
“For more than 30 years, the MNRF services has owned and operated medium and intermediate helicopters,” says OMNR operations manager Bob Crowell. “MBB/Eurocopter and now, Airbus Helicopters have been successfully providing helicopter services to the MNRF for the past 30 years.”
Crowell notes that OMNR pilots and clients are particularly impressed with the EC130 airframe. It is quiet, offers enhanced safety features, extra seating capacity and great viewing opportunities from every seat, a real advantage for resource management, enforcement and aerial observation. “The speed, range, endurance, payload and cargo capacity are ideal for this multi-mission, multi-role helicopter,” Crowell says.
Versatility in design, payload capacity and more are also crucial for Ontario’s main electricity provider Hydro One, where helicopters are used to maintain a vast power grid that includes 30,000 kilometres of transmission lines and 12,000 km of distribution lines. Hydro One has four Airbus AStar A350 B2s and three AStar A350 B3s in its fleet manned by eight full-time and two part time-pilots who log about 4,200 flight hours a year. (For more on Hydro One, see, “Negotiating the Fly by Wire,” pg. 19).
Greg Lester, manager of helicopter services at Hydro One, says reliability, consistency and lifting capacity are definite advantages in the harsh environments crews often find themselves in. For forestry, generally, helicopters are transporting crews and their equipment using aerial taxi, slinging fuel to them, usually external loads to bring in compressors that help them set poles and parts of the towers.
“It’s a very big province, so there is a lot out there for this type of work,” Lester says. “The nice thing about the AStar platform, especially at the B2 and B3 level, is the available capability to lifting those external loads. The poles are fairly heavy, we have moved over on the transmission side to composite poles, which now we can lift up to a 95-footer. So, it’s a steady performer and the guys are out there for 450 to 500 hours per aircraft per year, so, they are very capable. The crews really like the power available for lift.”
Paul Spring, president/operations manager with Fort McMurray, Alta.-based Phoenix Heli-Flight appreciates the reliability and consistent excellence of his Airbus fleet. A strong advocate for the technology and its role in enhancing safety, Spring listens to his clients carefully, delivering what they want. It’s sound practice in the competitive Alberta oil patch, where discriminating oil and gas customers demand the most in a helicopter – and their clients. Spring’s fleet boasts 10 single- and twin-engine helicopters, including a new EC135 T2e for its Medevac
“Airbus has machines available in their product offering for every size,” says Spring. They have single- and twin-engine AStars, such as the EC135s and EC145s. If you are trying to meet all (client) needs, you really don’t have to leave their product line – they have something for everyone.”
Spring also maintains that Airbus, like many OEMs, is taking steps to concentrate on safety enhancement and realizes that they too, have a major role in working to create an accident-free environment – it’s not just about moving product. “Turbomeca started things first and now Airbus has picked up on it,” Spring notes. “At first, I’m not sure if the OEMs had a role in safety because they didn’t really connect the dots. They have realized that the optics could be changed through some intervention on their side.”
A commitment to safety is indeed something Airbus Helicopters Canada takes very seriously, says Trapp, and he insists it remains the company’s number one focus in the immediate future and going forward. One way to accomplish this goal, he suggests, is to improve information and knowledge through training – not only at the plant level in Fort Erie, but with operators nationwide.
“We have a training department in Fort Erie where we ensure all the pilots and AMEs, have the correct knowledge level when they take delivery of the aircraft, including recurrent training after that, especially on the pilots’ side,” says Trapp. “Usually, we do the pilot training at the facility of our customers. It’s just one way to develop safe flying practices.”
Airbus has also taken a strong advocacy role in the industry with its Innovation & Safety Award. Designed to recognize the achievements of individuals and organizations developing safe practices and driving future change, Airbus is awarding $10,000 to the cause this year, up from $5,000 in previous years. The company also offers an annual safety symposium for all corporate customers. Trapp attended the event this May and was impressed with the value that came out of it. “There were a lot of strategies and tips shared by all pilots . . . this is certainly one way to ensure a safer environment for all Canadian customers.
Trapp continues, noting that Airbus is working hard to ensure customers have the information they need to fly their new aircraft safely and efficiently. “When you look at the accident rates, most are due to human factors. Training and OEM recurrent training can help in this regard.”
An Innovative Approach
Staying committed to research and development and concentrating on innovation can also help in this regard and Airbus Helicopters Canada is certainly not resting on its laurels in these areas. Machines such as the EC145 T2, with its autopilot and latest standards for medium twins, along with the EC130 T2 and more, will help keep Airbus at the forefront of industry needs while exceeding safety standards.
“Our research and development and engineering teams are always seeking new innovations for this market,” Trapp says. “We are currently working on a new utility version of the EC130 T2 specific to our operators, and working on a new capability for the EC135. I feel these will have plenty of success with Canadian operators.” Trapp is also gaining valuable industry experience, touring operations nationwide, interacting with customers and gleaning information from key partners and customers.
For the past 30 years, the Airbus name has had an indelible mark on not only the helicopter landscape in Canada, but also the community of Fort Erie. The company is one of the stalwarts of the Niagara economy and as Trapp notes proudly, the employees try hard to promote the brand in a number of local charities and community organizations. Tour the facility and it is hard not to get a strong sense of community and camaraderie, one that is replicated in the industry as a whole. Quality breeds quality and the hard work of the past 30 years in Fort Erie is starting to pay supreme dividends.
|Airbus employees try hard to promote the brand in local charities and community organizations. (Photo courtesy of Airbus Helicopters Canada)
And given the opportunities that present themselves with an aging Canadian fleet, the international MRO market, composite and cowling manufacturing, used helicopters sales – for example, the versatile BK 117 is gaining traction as a nice fleet replacement option – it won’t be surprising to see Airbus Helicopters Canada solidifying its mark in the Canadian market for years to come.
“The helicopter industry is a very competitive market both globally and in Canada and competition is good because it forces you to be better,” Trapp says. “I welcome competition and we have been doing very well over the last 30 years in competing in this market. In the years head, we will do even better. To be better, it’s about increasing the satisfaction of our customer, the quality, and the competitiveness of our products. And I know we can do it.”
Key milestones in the development of Airbus Helicopters Canada
- 1984 – Airbus Helicopters Canada Ltd. is formed in Fort Erie, Ont., under the name MBB Helicopter Canada Limited. It is wholly-owned by Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB), a German aerospace company formed as the result of several mergers in the late 1960s.
- 1986 – Toronto’s Ranger Helicopters commences a high frequency scheduled helicopter shuttle service using three Aerospatiale AStars and a TwinStar painted in Air Canada colours to fly between downtown Toronto and Lester B. Pearson International Airport. The service was designed to help Air Canada increase its market share of the high yield business travel market in Toronto and provide a downtown connecting service for passengers heading to Montreal and Ottawa.
- 1989 – Canadian Helicopters inaugurates scheduled helicopter passenger service between Vancouver and the year-round resort of Whistler, B.C. with AS350B AStar helicopters.
- 1993 – In mid-1993, the company is restructured as Eurocopter Canada Ltd. following the merger of the helicopter divisions of Aérospatiale of France and Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG (DASA), which incorporated MBB. In 1993, single-engine deliveries accounted for 77 per cent of the North American market. In the fall, Eurocopter Canada delivers French-designed aircraft directly from ECL to Canadian customers. German MBB helicopters for Canada had been shipped directly to Fort Erie since 1984.
- 1994 – Eurocopter gains ground in North America, taking the lead in new turbine sales to commercial customers. The company’s six helicopter families and 11 turbine helicopter models captured 42.1 per cent of the market in 1992, based on figures from the U.S. National Transportation Research Board (NTRB). On Jan. 1, Eurocopter Canada Ltd. in Fort Erie gains full responsibility for the sales, service and support of the entire Eurocopter helicopter portfolio in Canada.
- 1996 – A new chapter begins for Eurocopter Canada with the arrival of the prototype EC135 P1 in Fort Erie for flight test and certification work. The company also steps up its program for the refurbishing of AStar for resale.
- 1997 – Super Pumas Serve Offshore Newfoundland. In 1995, Eurocopter achieves a major Canadian offshore milestone when the AS332L Super Puma is selected to support the development of the Hibernia oil field 200 miles (320 km) southeast of St. John’s, Nfld.
- 1997 – Nine months after its first flight, French regulatory authorities certified the AS350 B3 at the end of 1997. The RCMP becomes the first Canadian customer a year later.
- 1998 – The first helicopter refurbished in Montreal by Eurocopter Canada Ltd. (ECL) rolls out of its Dorval airport facility in June. The now popular EC120B Colibri is certified by the FAA
- 1999 – Fifteen years of success! The 15th anniversary celebrations are held in Fort Erie, celebrating ECL’s long-established engineering, design and certification capabilities.
- 2003 – The first Canadian EC155B is delivered to Hamilton’s Jetport Inc. for business missions
- 2004 – The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) takes delivery of the first EC 130 B4 in Canada
- 2006 – Great Slave Helicopters takes delivery of the 400th Eurocopter helicopter in the Canadian market, an EC130 B4
- 2007 – The first EC135 for the Canadian market is delivered to the VIH Aviation Group
- 2008 – Eurocopter Canada holds an opening ceremony for its newly expanded customer service facility in Richmond, B.C. In May, the company celebrates the expansion of its headquarters in Fort Erie, growing to 135,625 square feet.
- 2009 – Eurocopter Canada finalizes an agreement with Canadian Helicopters Limited (CHL) on Oct. 22 and fully endorses the CHL Advanced Mountain Flying Training Program. The company also celebrates its 25th anniversary
- 2010 – The 600th Eurocopter helicopter for the Canadian market is delivered to Héli-Inter Inc. of St. Hubert, Que.
- 2011 – Transport Canada certifies the AS350 B3e – the next generation aircraft in the proven Ecureuil family of helicopters.
- 2012 – Eurocopter Canada Ltd. beccomes the first Eurocopter subsidiary to establish MRO capabilities to process level-D repairs on the Starflex bearingless main rotor hub for the Ecureuil/AStar AS350, AS355 and EC130 helicopter families
- 2012 Eurocopter Canada Ltd. (ECL) completes its 300th composite engine cowling for the EC145 twin-engine helicopter.
- 2014 – Eurocopter Canada rebrands as Airbus Helicopters Canada
- 2014 – Fox Aviation of Montreal takes delivery of the first EC130 T2 helicopter in Canada
- 2014 – The company celebrates its 190 Airbus Helicopters customers in Canada flying 680 aircraft supported from company headquarters in Fort Erie, which also manufacturers parts for Airbus Helicopters in service throughout the world. Some 40 new jobs are also added to the Fort Erie facility producing cowling parts for the EC225.