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Helicopter Focus: EC135 chosen for offshore wind farm maintenance role
An EC135, the first helicopter to be acquired in the UK for maintenance work on an offshore wind farm, is due to come into operation from the end of 2009.

An EC135, the first helicopter to be acquired in the UK for maintenance work on an offshore wind farm, is due to come into operation from the end of 2009. Bond Air Services says the EC135 will be used for activities including the delivery of personnel and complex equipment by winch at the Greater Gabbard wind farm, approximately 20 miles off the East Anglian coast.

The wind farm will consist of 140 3.6MW wind turbines located around two sand banks known as Inner Gabbard and The Galloper in the North Sea. When the project is completed, by the end of 2010, it is expected to be the largest wind farm in the world.

Bond Air Services provides support for marine activities including transport, maintenance and monitoring missions as well as emergency medical services, police aerial support operations, media and executive charter services. It says the multi-mission twin-engined EC135 provides outstanding one-engine inoperative performance, excellent lateral stability and the capability for right or left of the cabin winching in adverse weather conditions, which it regards as a requirement for successful wind-farm maintenance operations. EC145 trials IFR medevac

Another trailblazing role for helicopters is being defined in France. Eurocopter, the hospital in Dreux, the French association of helicopter emergency medical services, and the French civil aviation authority are cooperating in a series of instrument flight tests. Positive results are expected to enable patients to be transported by helicopter from one hospital to another even under poor weather conditions.

"The current reorganisation of the French public health system involves concentrating specialist medical services in a reduced number of hospitals," Eurocopter says. "This will inevitably augment the need for air ambulance services, which in turn depends on the development of a medical transport network capable of providing an even more efficient service. Until now, the helicopters operating on medical missions only flew under visual flight conditions, in other words they can only fly if the weather permits good visibility. This limits their ability to deal with emergency situations in which every second counts, for instance when a patient has to be transferred to a specialised ward in another hospital in the middle of the night. In such cases, helicopter transport is on average three times faster than the same journey by ambulance."

The first trials in Europe to test the use of helicopters operating in an IFR configuration to perform medical transport flights demanded that the EC145 should complete a flight entirely under GPS navigation, from take-off to final approach, confirming the helicopter's ability to follow a predefined flight route even in the event of unfavourable meteorological conditions.

The experimental trials between the hospitals of Nogent-le-Rotrou and Dreux in the Eure-et-Loir region, should make it possible to set up a regular transport service on this route on a permanent basis towards the end of 2009. The experience gained during the test phase will serve as a model for other similar services linking hospitals in other regions of France. More border protection

Separately police forces continue to expand their law enforcement and border patrol capabilities. The Bulgarian police have ordered an AW109 Power light twin helicopter for delivery in 2010. It will feature a tailored radio communication system, NVG, video down link, search light, mission console and FLIR camera. "The ability to change the interior configuration provides exceptional versatility to support the different law enforcement roles," the police say. Pluses include the eight-seat single/dual pilot IFR flight-certification, maximum cruise speed of 154 kts and a range of 512 nm.

Estonia's ministry of interior has ordered a third AW139 for delivery in the last quarter 2010 to be operated by the border guard for SAR, medical evacuation and border patrol. The ministry says: "It will be based at Kuressaare airport on Saaremaa Island from 2011 when a new base will be opened that will allow faster coverage in the western area of Estonia."

The other AW139s are based in Tallinn. The ministry says: "These helicopters will ensure that the work of guarding the external borders and the border control infrastructure are in compliance with the European Schengen zone requirements. The order for a third AW139 follows the successful introduction into service of the initial aircraft and highlights the customer's satisfaction with the helicopter, training and support provided by AgustaWestland."

Cyprus's ministry of defence has ordered three AW139 medium twins for SAR and utility-EMS duties. It says the 15-seat AW139 meets multi-role and flexibility requirements. "When configured for SAR/EMS purposes the AW139 is able to carry up to four litters and six attendants," it points out. And the island's ministry of justice has also ordered two AW139 medium twins for law enforcement and SAR.

The ministry says the 15-seat AW139 fully complies with the latest certification requirements in terms of performance and safety. "The availability of modular role kits allows easy and quick conversion to and from various configurations and the AW139 has a wide range of mission equipment and an extremely spacious cabin."

Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant has supplied two more Mi-171s to the UTair air company. UTair says the helicopters of these batches are painted white and have identification marks of UN. "The helicopters can be configured for the carriage of cargoes inside of the cargo cabin and on external load sling, transportation of people, the carrying out of construction-assembly works and other operations," the company says. S-92 reaches 98% availability Sikorsky says its SAR-configured S-92 logged 279 rescues and was operated by CHC Helicopter Corporation at availability levels of more than 98 per cent in its first year of use.

CHC operates the SAR S-92s from two bases, Stornoway and Sumburgh, covering territory in the North Atlantic and the North Sea. Ian McLuskie, UK SAR business unit leader, CHC SAR, says: "The S-92's fully coupled automatic flight control system has been invaluable, and the large cabin and tail ramp also have been of great benefit, particularly when airlifting rescue teams."

Analysts and operators report that demand for helicopter charter is holding up well despite the economic downturn. Mike Burns, ceo and pilot at Atlas Helicopters, says: "At Atlas, we now have a fleet of four AS355 Twin Squirrels and one Bell 206L LongRanger, but expansion may soon be on the cards which is an exciting prospect."

Burns says: "Helicopter charter in the UK is becoming increasingly popular, particularly as our roads become more congested and fuel and other related motoring costs increase. One of our aims at Atlas Helicopters is to dispel the myth that corporate charter is an expensive undertaking, so our service has been designed to be as seamless, stress-free and offer as much value for money as possible."

He says helicopter flights from Portsmouth to London can take just 30 minutes while travellers from Redhill in Surrey can expect to be in London in just 10 minutes. "Last minute meetings can be accommodated through the Atlas Advantage programme which enables corporations to pre-book flying hours via a membership scheme for use at any point throughout the year. It is much like booking a car and driver or reserving a train ticket and puts helicopter charter within easy reach for even the smallest of companies wishing to transport their executives efficiently from A to B."

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