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Belgian operator Helimo has invested in an AS350B3e Squirrel, which it will use for a variety of roles including cargo swing, aerial photography, filming, training and sightseeing. Says general manager Michael Wilford: “We were looking for a single engine helicopter that could offer more than the EC120 which we have been using for 14 years. The AS350B3e is performing incredibly well so far. The difference between this and other AS350s, and certainly the EC120, is just amazing.
“The AS350 has now proven itself for over 40 years. It has been up-graded with better engines, airframes and avionics. The newest version B3e is safe and easy to operate.”
Owing to its high performance, Wilford believes the Squirrel offers increased space, speed and range with six passengers onboard when compared with the EC120. “The FADEC is also a nice feature which we didn't have on the 120,” he adds.
“Thanks to the B3e, we now have a much wider range of missions available. It is the only B3e in Belgium at the moment, so there is a lot of work for it.”
One year ago Helimo took over the heliport of Knokke on the coast of Belgium, having already operated Antwerp heliport. It is the busiest heliport in Belgium as the surrounding area has numerous shopping facilities, restaurants, hotels and scenic beaches.
This side of the business is showing encouraging progress, but the weather in the country is challenging. “In the south of Belgium we can have a lot of mist,” explains Wilford.
“I hope to expand our business further in the coming months. I think we will have enough work with the B3e and other aircraft, and we are also looking to expand our facilities with more hangar space.
“We will also be a launch customer for the Bell 505, but this is not until 2017,” he says.
Helimo was established in 1992 and was the first to operate an MD520N in Europe. It has the only civil heliport in Antwerp, five minutes from the city centre. In 1996 it took on an A109C and in 2001 it took delivery of the EC120.