HeliAir Sweden has taken delivery of a second EC120B helicopter to enhance its power line inspections. Accountable manager and CEO Aram Rubinstein says that 100 hour maintenance intervals are the key reason for the choice of aircraft, and he expects the EC120 to fly the 100 hours without any snags. “We have studied the model and, according to other operators, it seems to work as the manufacturer has promised,” he comments.
“We have compared it to the MD500; we have three of these and are selling all of them. The visibility from the front seats of the EC is favourable, and the hydraulics are also preferable. Noise levels are greatly reduced inside and out, and the whole cabin and luggage compartment are impressive; such a luggage compartment on the MD500 doesn't even exist.”
The latest rotorcraft is able to fly up to four hours on one fuel tank, meaning that Rubinstein does not have to deal with extra tanks as he does on the MD. “These always leak and take forever to fill, and the pumps keep on breaking down,” he says.
“Another positive is that we can fly in falling snow with the EC, which we cannot generally do with our MD500s. We installed a float on one of them but it came at huge cost, and we couldn't pass this on to the customer. The MD500 is 20 kts faster on a ferry flight but this is the only time it outperforms the EC.”
He plans to consolidate with the two EC120s for at least a year in order to evaluate them, and hints that the next aircraft on the agenda could be another AS350 Squirrel. HeliAir Sweden's total fleet comprises three AS350s (two B2s and a B3), two EC120s, three MD500s and a Huey. Rubinstein admits that the newest EASA regulations have made it difficult for small operations to survive: “Crippling costs have affected all the manpower that an AOC and an aerial work permit consumes. It is too expensive to have a company with only one or two helicopters; you need at least five or even ten just to cover your base costs.”
The summer months tend to be tough for the operator, but it has engaged in some firefighting recently. Once summer is over, Sweden is often hit by storms, and these can act as a blessing in disguise for Rubinstein and his team because they disrupt power lines. “If the temperature doesn't get really cold then the trees are standing in wet soil and fall easily, so this is another source of work for us,” he explains. “This was the case last year. The climate is what it is; it is getting increasingly unpredictable and in a funny way this helps us.
“The discussion we are having with the board now is whether to go to twin aircraft or not, as I know this is a debate that is raging in the UK and elsewhere in terms of flying in built-up areas. So there is an outside chance of our next aircraft being something like a 355N.”
The B3 and two B2s have floats installed, as does one of the EC120s, and this has been another hot topic in the industry. Rubinstein concludes: “I know that some of my competitors fly over water without floats and are unconcerned. I have installed them to avoid any discussion on the matter.”