The iService Centre Is Airborne
By Carroll McCormick
It is as quiet as a library. A mechanic leans into a Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 turbine engine.
By Carroll McCormick
It is as quiet as a library. A mechanic leans into a Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 turbine engine. An avionics technician glides under an AStar AS350 B3e. The stripped-down cabin of a Robinson R22 sits a couple of metres from its refurbished engine, ready for uncrating. Engine specialists murmur over a computer diagram. Behind this placid picture, however, the year-old iService Centre in St-Hubert, Que., is busy staking claims in a rich helicopter maintenance ore body.
|Technicians do completion work on a new AStar AS350 B3e.
(Photo by Carroll McCormick)
It has been an intense 12 months for Jacques Laflamme, the director for the iService Centre, owned by Placement B. Allard Inc., in Chicoutimi, Que. An aircraft maintenance engineer by trade with 33 years in military and civilian aviation, including stints with Bombardier and Eurocopter, Laflamme has been tasked with building the iService Centre from the ground up.
Among other things, he has been hiring engine, avionics and composite/sheet metal specialists and meeting with new customers and suppliers. He has obtained Transport Canada and Bell approvals to work on the Bell 412 and other types. He devoted months to preparing the iService Centre for consideration for Canadian Armed Forces Griffon helicopter maintenance contracts.
The iService Centre shares a 26,000-square foot facility and 56,000 square feet of apron with Heli-Inter, a sister division of Placement B. Allard. Despite its proximity, the iService Centre is not an extension of Heli-Inter, Laflamme explains. “The iService Centre is very busy and dedicated to external customers. Other than for engines, we do not touch Heli-Inter machines. We have separate operations. We have different people, a different set of skills and 12 months a year work. I have a year-round staff here at the iService Centre.”
That said, Coast to Coast Helicopters, the Red Deer, Alta.-based leasing division of Placement B. Allard, is capitalizing on the iService Centre’s capabilities. Before last year, most maintenance was subcontracted outside of the company. In fact, Laflamme notes, “Besides our mechanics, we had very little maintenance capability before 2008. If we had an avionics snag in a machine in James Bay, say, we’d hire a subcontractor to fly in and fix it. Now, we do all our own avionics and sheet metal. We still hire some subcontracting agencies for mechanics, because we have so much work.
“We will be hiring more mechanics, sheet metal and avionics guys in the next year. The work is growing very quickly.”
Bringing some of that work back in-house helps Coast to Coast better manage costs. It also gives the iService Centre specialists the opportunity to hone their skills. The iService Centre is, for example, authorized to do advanced engine maintenance on Turbomeca engines.
“We’ve started our engine shop and we’ve trained our personnel,” Laflamme explains. “We are doing level 1 and 2 overhauls and some level 3 tasks on Turbomeca engines for ourselves. We also do maintenance work up to the 1,800-hour inspection on Lycoming engines. We are currently only offering this service to Coast to Coast choppers, but our long-term plan is to offer this service to external customers.”
The iService Centre is an approved Bell Customer Service Facility and is already offering some Bell services to external customers. “We are the central facility for Bell customers for Quebec and portions of New Brunswick. We honour warranty work and sell Bell parts,” Laflamme says. “We are set up with Bell to work on the 204/205/206 A, B/206L/212/407. We have approval from Transport Canada to do work on the Bell 412. All of our people have been trained to work on the Griffon.”
|Jacques Laflamme, director for the iService Centre.
(Photo by Carroll McCormick)
The iService Centre is also authorized to do field maintenance, including basic engine maintenance, avionics and sheet metal on all the helicopter types it owns – work that it will do for external customers. Given that Coast to Coast owns 104 helicopters, this is a long list. In addition to the Bell types, Coast to Coast also owns AStar 350 B2, BA+ and B3 aircraft, Robinson R22 and R44 machines and Hughes 300 and 500 types.
As an approved Bell Customer Service Facility, the iService Centre is also allowed to work on Bell helicopter tail booms. To this end, on April 4, the iService Centre took delivery of a tail boom jig for working on the Bell 205, 212 and 412.
The first assignment for the tail boom jig will be refurbishing a used Bell 212 tail boom that it purchased from Mustang, another division of Coast to Coast. Laflamme explains how this will play out. “We are currently training our people to use the tail boom jig,” he says. “We will refurbish the tail boom and put in parts store for sale, rent or exchange. By May, we will be ready to offer this service to external customers.”
As for acquiring other specialized equipment, Laflamme says, “We are looking at the market to see what the best components are to get into.
We plan to add a component shop; for example, transmissions, tail rotor gearbox, actuators, main gearbox.”
The work is coming in: for example, a deal to do a 12-year/2,200-hour inspection and overhaul on another Robinson is almost closed and a Bell 212 is scheduled to arrive by early summer for level 3 maintenance. This is all good, but Laflamme says the really big pie that the iService Centre wants a share of is the Bell 412CF Griffon. The Armed Forces took delivery of 100 of these aircraft between 1995 and 1997, but until recently, Laflamme explains, maintenance contracts for them were off-limits for shops east of the Ontario/Manitoba border.
“Bell manufactured the Griffon in Mirabel. Since Mirabel got this lucrative production contract, only third-line companies from western Canada were allowed to bid on maintenance contracts for a certain number of years. This restriction has expired, so now anyone can bid on this work,” Laflamme explains.
“There is a cell of people at Bell who award the Griffon maintenance contracts,” Laflamme continues. “I worked full-time for three months preparing for the Griffon program. Unfortunately, we didn’t rank high enough this time for the 3,000-hour/five-year or 600-hour scheduled work.”
The iService Centre did rank high enough to do other work on the Griffon. “With the Bell audit behind us, we will be able to do field maintenance, mobile repair party, tail boom repairs and 300-hour inspections. We are hoping to get some of this work in eastern Canada, where the major concentration of Griffon is found. This is currently not offered by anyone else in Quebec or, I think, in New Brunswick.”
The pie is large indeed, and Laflamme plans to be ready to qualify for some big slices the next time Bell rewrites its list of approved maintenance centres.