Building a Top Shop

Commitment to Quality Helps Alpine Aerotech Soar
 james careless
July 06, 2010
By james careless
There are more than 120 Bell Helicopter-authorized Customer Service Facilities (CSFs) around the world, but only 12 CSFs scored high enough on the helicopter manufacturer’s Bell Achievement Ranking System (BARS) to win a “platinum level” customer service rating for 2010.

building 1
 
A made-over Bell 412 after a refurbishment, paint and re-wire.
 
Three of these CSFs are based in Canada, yet only one Canadian CSF — Alpine Aerotech of Kelowna, B.C. — received the platinum level rating for the second year running. (For the record, the other two 2010 Canadian winners were Avialta Helicopter Maintenance and Eagle Copters Maintenance, both based in Alberta.)

“We won the award because we committed to Bell’s CSF criteria and we’re pretty good at what we do,” says Alpine Aerotech president Dick Everson. The team at Bell Helicopter clearly agrees: “We are proud to call these 12 CSFs part of our global network and are honoured to award them with the platinum rating for excellence in customer service,” says Danny Maldonado, Bell’s senior vice-president of customer support and chief services officer.

The platinum level award signifies more than being nice to customers. According to Bell’s criteria, platinum level CSFs have extensively trained staffs; clean, safe work areas; a good inventory of Bell spare parts; and provide insurance for helicopters that are being serviced in their shops.

Achieving platinum level status two years in a row is a real achievement for Alpine Aerotech. After all, it was launched as a subsidiary of Alpine Helicopters in 1990, with the initial mission of servicing that company’s Bell 205, 206A/B&L series and 212 aircraft. What started as a small shop with a handful of people has since grown to an 88-person operation operating out of 57,000 square feet of separate hangar space.

“The subsidiary started from virtually nothing, with the intent of expanding third party sales to a level of 90 per cent of our overall business,” Everson says. “Today, our client list includes Air Methods, Abu Dabhi Helicopters, Bristow Helicopters, CHC Helicopters, ERA Helicopters, PHI Helicopters Inc., the U.S. Army and Navy, and literally dozens more.”

A Growing Entity
Alpine Helicopters flies sightseeing, heli-skiing and heli-hiking flights in the Canadian Rockies. Back in 1990, the fleet was made up of Bell 205, 206A/B/III & L series and 212 helicopters, adding the B407 model in 1996. This is why Alpine Aerotech’s initial purpose was to design and make combination tailboom and cabin repair fixtures for these aircraft.

building 2
 
Avionics technician Baron Danish fixes a Bell 212 engine part. (Photos courtesy of Alpine Aerotech Ltd.)
 
Within a year of starting up, however, Alpine Aerotech was hired by Bristow Helicopter to build a B205/212 tail boom fixture. By 1992, the company was making B205/212/412 and B206 series combination tailboom repair fixtures for Bell Helicopter Services and actively canvassing Bell medium fleet operators for repair work.

Two years later, Alpine Aerotech received its first STC (supplemental type certificate) approval from Transport Canada and the FAA. An STC approval means an original/modified part and/or maintenance procedure developed by a third-party company is FAA-sanctioned for application to the aircraft it was designed for.

Alpine Aerotech’s first STC was for its repair and overhaul procedures for the Bell 212/412 exhaust ejector assembly. This was followed by STCs for the company’s B212/412 cargo mirror assembly, and B205/212/412 forward fuselage step assembly. Since then, Alpine Aerotech has received numerous FAA STCs for items such as its B212/412 exhaust ejector/deflector assembly, B212/412 oil cooler access door kit and B212 vertical reference seat modifications, among others.

As the years passed, Alpine Aerotech kept expanding its capabilities, requiring more room to operate in and more staff to be hired. “Today, we have six combination fuselage and tailboom repair fixtures; a paint removal booth, two paint booths; resistance, MIG [metal inert gas] and TIG [tungsten inert gas] welding equipment; stress relieving and optical tooling equipment, and a number of computer-aided 3-D measurement and cutting systems,” says Everson. “We are equipped to do all kinds of sheet metal and structural work on Bell 204/205, 206, 212/412, 214 and 407 helicopters, plus Bell piston-powered helicopters and Eurocopter AS-350s.”

And that’s not all: Alpine Aerotech can repair and replace avionics on all major brands of equipment used in fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, with emphasis on Bell, MDHC, and Eurocopter helicopters. It can fix composite components; strip and repaint aircraft; and make new parts and tools from design to manufacturing and testing.

Solving Problems
Alpine Aerotech’s many STCs are a testament to the company’s ingenuity in fixing Bell helicopters. In essence, the “STC’d parts” it has developed are responses to the realities of maintaining helicopters over the long haul. As certain repairs come up again and again, it becomes apparent certain OEM components could be improved in materials, function and application. Other parts could just be made differently to last longer and be easier to remove and replace. And some new parts could help the helicopter do more than its original designers thought possible.

“Ultimately, our STC’d parts solve problems that exist with the OEM’s original parts,” Everson says. “For instance, our 212/412 exhaust ejector systems include a ‘floating jacket’ that is attached with 10 screws and three clamps. The original Bell part was held in place with 600 monel rivets; you can imagine how long that would take to remove and replace. Moreover, the original OEM jacket was rigidly fastened in such a manner that when the internal exhaust liner heated up and expanded, the fixed jacket was put under stress, leading to metal fatigue and cracking over time. Our floating jacket allows movement to deal with expansion and contraction, without being stressed and having the ejector’s operational life shortened.”

Growth Prospects
Alpine Aerotech is a company built upon precision and thoroughness. A visit to its website makes this clear: Where other companies would use their web pages to praise themselves in glowing, vague terms, Alpine Aerotech’s site is very detailed in describing the company’s capabilities, services and
STC’d parts.

Ultimately, this precision is a product of the company’s employees and managers. Given Alpine Aerotech’s success, they are clearly doing something right. So, what is Everson’s secret to getting the best from his staff? “It’s a matter of treating people fairly and with respect, paying fair wages and providing an environment to ensure that the workplace is safe and pleasant to be in,” he replies. “As well, the kind of work we do can be quite creative. Being able to improve upon an OEM’s parts – to make them work better and be easier to service – can be quite rewarding.”

As for the bottom line? Like the rest of the helicopter industry, Alpine Aerotech has been fighting the recession. Business has slowed due to fewer helicopter flights being flown by their customers, which has resulted in longer times between scheduled maintenance and repairs. “But the recession hasn’t stopped us, and we are looking at ways to deal with it,” says Everson. Asked where Alpine Aerotech stands today, he responds, “It’s somewhere between marginal and serious. It’s certainly got my attention, and we will modify our behaviour accordingly.”

Still, a company that has gained two back-to-back platinum CSF ratings from Bell is bound to have a long, successful future.

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