Chief pilot William Silaa at Tanzanian operator Keys Aviation is hoping for an upgrade of its Bell JetRanger 206 to a B3 Squirrel. “We need a better helicopter for the Kilimanjaro operation, because the JetRanger cannot go very high and still perform as required; its high altitude performance is not as good as that of the Eurocopter,” he says. “I am looking at the Eurocopter B3, the B+, and other Squirrels that have better performance up the mountains, and I am also type rated on these. We don't need an extra helicopter, we just need an improvement on the one we've got! Getting a better helicopter will be the best way – I don't see work for two.”
Silaa started flying helicopters in 1971 when he was training in Stockholm. At that time he flew for the police force of Tanzania. He then switched to commercial flying, conducting everything from red locust control to pipeline work in Kenya, Zambia and Burundi. He has flown for mineral exploration companies in Mozambique and elsewhere in Africa, and also formed his own company General Aviation Services before joining Keys. His current employer carries out charter work as well as its mountain duties: “With Kilimanjaro, we provide assistance when climbers get into trouble due to mountain sickness or injury. We have a stretcher available in our helicopter and we go and rescue them when required.
“We also do filming work, medevac, and we take people into remote and inaccessible areas to complete their projects.”
Silaa is the only pilot working for the company, and he says that his expertise often gets called on by other companies in Tanzania owing to a shortage of pilots of his calibre in the region. He acts as a consultant to potential helicopter buyers and advises them on the correct model to choose. Top of the list of potential buyers is the owner of Keys Aviation, and Silaa is calling on every means of diplomacy at his disposal to secure a new machine.
“We encounter lots of difficult situations, but above all we always try to stay safe and to avoid bad weather. The weather can be extremely tricky in the mountains, so I try to keep away from that.”