Cheshire, UK-based GB Helicopters has added a Sikorsky S-76C++ to its fleet. The company has also recently opened a satellite base at London Elstree aerodrome in response to demand from clients in London.
Operations manager Andy Cunningham says: "Our core business model is focused on providing luxury travel solutions to our distinguished clientele. However, we are also heavily involved with the aerial filming and utility sectors. Five of our nine-strong fleet are based at private addresses near to our Ashley headquarters.
"Although the operation is quite sizeable, the staffing infrastructure is relatively small and comprises two operations staff, five full time flight crew and a generous pool of freelance crew.
"The Sikorsky S76C++ is a firm favourite among VVIPs, dignitaries and royalty. Only two C++ models are available for charter in the UK, so we expect the aircraft to be in high demand."
The Sikorsky seats up to six passengers and has two rear-facing 'captain's chairs' plus a forward-facing bench configuration with armrests. The helicopter will primarily be based in Manchester but is expected to visit London and other parts of Europe too. "The S-76 amplifies the comfort and level of luxury that we can offer," continues Cunningham. "Other types we have under management include the AS355N/NP, AW109SP and B429."
GB Helicopters has been heavily involved with the aerial filming sector in recent years. In 2014 it invested in a GSS C516 gyro stabilised platform equipped with a RED Epic Dragon sensor, enabling the team to capture footage up to 6K resolution. Three project examples that have required this specialist activity included the movies Dunkirk, Transformers and Spitfire. In 2018, it purchased a Shotover K1 gyro stabilised platform with sensors that can capture up to 8K.
The company is also one of the only civilian operators in the UK approved by the CAA to perform helicopter abseiling tasks along with low level disembarkation into bodies of water. "This type of tasking is primarily requested by production companies for projects such as the Bear Grylls television series and Harry Styles' Sign of the Times music video," Cunningham explains. "In addition, with our multi-role AS355N/NP aircraft we regularly perform cargo flights around the UK and Europe. Common cargo items include car and aircraft parts. Due to our close proximity to Manchester airport, we are favoured by the based maintenance organisations to transport urgent parts to commercial aircraft with technical faults.
"We can also perform underslung load lifting missions for larger items, and have worked alongside environmental organisations to transport heather brash in the Peak District for development and rejuvenation projects. We have also recently operated on behalf of a large water treatment company to replace a broken pump weighing 0.6 tonnes."
Power distributor contracts are another source of revenue for GB, and its AS355 fleet with aerial cameras is well-suited to these missions. "We perform visual and thermal inspections on the powerline circuits and report any defects back to the distributors for rectification. Due to the size of the networks covered, helicopters are vital to perform this task," Cunningham concludes.