We get behind the controls of a Magni M16 gyroplane, chat with NASA engineers about the Mars Helicopter, look at Helinet’s firefighting Black Hawk & reflect on the legacy left by Universal Helicopters.
The British Helicopter Association has organized a landmark program to provide British agencies easy access to the civil UK helicopter fleet to help support the fight against the coronavirus.
Tim Fauchon, CEO of the British Helicopter Association (BHA), organized the project with a team of volunteers in just three weeks. A Royal Air Force veteran, Fauchon saw a similar scheme of civilian ships used by the government during the Falklands war.
“Contingency planning in the UK is generally very good, but this project has been created by people like me who are confined to their house,” he said.
The scheme ensures that any agency can place a request for helicopter support with the BHA, provided that they have a contract with the British government in place. The BHA then decides on the appropriate assets, provides a quote, and finally tasks the aircraft operators, who are providing their services at cost.
Fauchon explained that even under the limitations of the scheme, there were plenty of aircraft to meet demand. “The Civil Aviation Authority has stipulated that operators under the scheme must have an Air Operator’s Certificate with an A to B approval, which entails a safety management system, but I’m totally comfortable with the capability that we have,” he said. “Contracts are being let as we speak, and 50 percent of the companies [involved in the scheme] are ready to go.”
The majority of the UK fleet is made up of Airbus Helicopters AS355 TwinStars and Leonardo AW109s, but larger types from offshore operators are also available, including Sikorsky S-92s and AW139s. These not only bring additional passenger and freight capacity, but also capability. Even though the scheme is currently flying in daylight hours only, the additional range and ease of operation in Instrument Flight Rules operation will help to guarantee a service even in poor weather conditions.
While the provision of helicopters is the most obvious means of the industry supporting efforts to respond to the outbreak, Fauchon explained that some of their early successes had been in delivering vital aviation support services. This is a critical element of maintaining existing emergency operators’ capabilities as airfield services have been severely impacted by the virus, particularly in London where there are only two such facilities.
“With both London City and Battersea [Heliport] closed, we have organized a fallback option to provide fuel to services such as the London Air Ambulance,” he said. “Support infrastructure is a vital component of this effort and I have even had an offer from a 24-hour freight forwarding company.”
Fauchon emphasized that the scheme was not competing with the UK’s well-established military aid to the civil authorities and that work was being allocated evenly wherever possible, with BHA members receiving no preferential treatment.
“The national interest has to come first, and we aim to be fully transparent,” he said. “My job is simply to look at what needs doing and what I have as the best asset to achieve it.”
The BHA has over 150 helicopters registered under this project, including 80 that are currently useable under the UK CAA’s guidelines.