Slave Lake Helicopters has developed the AStep platform for the safe and efficient transport of power line maintenance workers. Slave Lake Helicopters Photo
After conducting power line patrol inspections for the last five years, George Kelham, president of Slave Lake Helicopters, wanted to do more specialty work in the utility sector.
He and co-owner Debbie Kelham appointed Andrea Pelletier as a project manager to research and develop a safe and efficient way to take linemen to the top of towers. After researching how operators around the world were conducting such maneuvers, such as winching, human external cargo transport, and platform access, Pelletier and the Kelhams decided that the latter was the best option.
But Pelletier said there was a dearth of platforms on the market that fit Slave Lake’s requirements.
“It was difficult to find a device that would fully comply with provincial and federal occupational and safety codes, [as well as] with Transport Canada requirements — and one that satisfied our client,” she said.
With high quality and safety expectations for their client, Slave Lake Helicopters decided to develop its own utility platform and have it certified by Transport Canada. It was not going to be an easy task, but they were determined to succeed.
“It took us 11 months to get the STC [supplemental type certificate] approval,” said George Kelham. “We had to develop the project, find a designated airworthiness representative, build the platform, and do the flight test with Transport Canada.”
The AStep utility platform is located on the right side of the helicopter and is equipped with two solid stainless steel handrails. Slave Lake Helicopters Photo
The resulting utility platform — known as the AStep — is intended for embarking and disembarking linemen while in flight. A tool tray and seat can also be installed on the platform to allow a lineman to perform maintenance tasks on energized power lines.
The Astep is the ultimate tool for accessing structures because of its safe design. At no point is a lineman ever exposed to a fall; the worker is always connected to a certified and rated fall protection device.
“We named the platform ‘the AStep’ because the program is a new step for Slave Lake Helicopters,” said Debbie Kelham. “When using the AStar equipped with the AStep, our client can access power lines and structures located in remote areas that are difficult and complex to access. Our client owns lines that cross wetland, farm lands and restricted land. When they access these lands they have to compensate the landowner for any disturbance. By using our helicopter equipped with the AStep, our client does not leave any footprint on the ground of these critical areas.”
Slave Lake Helicopters’ client estimates a 50 percent reduction in the climbing required, thanks to the AStep. Slave Lake Helicopters Photo
By using the AStep, the client was able to improve their productivity when they tested insulators on a double-circuit 240-kV line in Alberta. The pilot dropped four crews of two linemen to the top of the lattice structures. Once the pilot dropped the forth team, she would receive a radio call to pick up the first crew and start leapfrogging the linemen until the job was finished.
To comply with the applicable regulations, the lineman uses a revolutionary new safety device that allows him or her to be safely belted to the primary structure of the helicopter and the transmission line at the same time. The device integrates a safety breakaway system. It is the only device designed to allow a worker the option to anchor to two separate points at the same time from a movable platform while at a work location. This system and procedure allows the lineman to stay safe in the event that the helicopter has an emergency and needs to move away. The lineman remains on the transmission structure while the pilot assesses the emergency condition.
Andrea Pelletier, a former Transport Canada inspector, is the lead pilot for the AStep program at Slave Lake Helicopters. Slave Lake Helicopters Photo
Slave Lake Helicopters, in partnership with its client, developed its training program for the platform and had it approved by Transport Canada. For the first part of the ground training, it hosted Robert Feerst from Utilities/Aviation Specialists Inc. to hold a “Flying in the Wire Environment” two-day course. The crews also had to complete technical ground training to learn the scripted procedures and all of the safety aspects of the work. The flight training program was an intensive 60 hours.