VIH Helicopters Ltd. JANUARY 10 www. bus- ex. com 131 With a wide variety of helicopters in its fleet, VIH Helicopters performs a surprising range of services for its clients, David Hendrick reports service V IH Helicopters Ltd. began business with one Bell 47 aircraft in 1955 at Victoria International Airport on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, making it Canada's oldest privately owned helicopter company. The company grew steadily and expanded to become the VIH Aviation Group of companies, which in 2000 began its expansion into the international marketplace, still operating out of the same location in Victoria. VIH Helicopters is the original division and has more than 250 employees, led by Charlie Mooney, general manager, who's been with the company for 20 years. He defines the divisions of the Group.
132 www. bus- ex. com JANUARY 10 " VIH Helicopters Ltd. is the Visual Flight Rules [ VFR] division within the VIH Aviation Group, and we operate everything from the light- class Bell Jet Ranger to heavy-lift aircraft such as the Sikorsky S61 and the Russian Kamov KA32. In between there are intermediate-class helicopters such as Bell 407s and Astars, and the medium- class Bell 205 and Bell 212. The Cougar Helicopters division is the Instrument Flight Rules [ IFR] entity within the VIH Aviation Group, and it consists of primarily heavy- lift aircraft supporting the offshore oil and gas industry. VIH Cougar Helicopters is a US entity based in Galliano, Louisiana, providing service in the Gulf of Mexico, and VFR operations based in Boise, Idaho." In the formative years, the heavy- lifting VIH Helicopters used to perform a lot of helicopter logging for the forestry industry on the coast of British Columbia, " but in the last few years that industry has become quite depressed, so we've had to source other markets," Mooney says. For example, the company has two Sikorsky S61s currently in Australia that are starting work on a contract for firefighting operations. It has another two of those aircraft, as well as two Russian Kamovs, working in Peru on year- round, multiyear contracts for the oil industry on exploration drilling programs in the Amazon Basin. VIH also uses the heavy- lift aircraft to assist in domestic mining exploration activities, as well as assisting utilities by " slinging" wood or steel structures in building power transmission lines. VIH Helicopters gets some interesting assignments, Mooney says, especially internationally. " From August 2008 to August 2009, we had two heavy- lift aircraft and one of our medium Bell 212s in Angola, Africa, on a contract providing support in Angola's first democratic election in two decades. We were carrying the candidates and some delegates around to remote villages during the election campaign. And when the actual election was held, we had the occasion to fly a contingent of international scrutinizers who were officially supervising the voting process, and in some cases the helicopters themselves became mobile polling stations." Domestically, the heavy- lift helicopters are often employed in fighting forest fires, and during the summer of 2009 they were kept pretty busy with all the fires burning throughout British Columbia. " It was extremely busy for us," says Mooney, " and when the two Sikorsky S61s and the Bell 212 returned from Angola, air- freighted in a giant Russian Antonov transport plane from Luanda to Vancouver International Airport, those three helicopters were rolled off that plane and reassembled at the airport, then three days later they were out working, fighting fires." Domestic winter operations routinely see at least 10 helicopters engaged in heli- ski operations. VIH Helicopters exclusively provides all required helicopters for Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing at Blue River, for its ski operations in the Cariboo and Monashee Mountains in British Columbia. This annual work utilizes Bell 212s, 407s and Astars, which are also used for firefighting and on- shore seismic oil and gas exploration, as well as for mining exploration. The Astars, Bell 407s, Bell 212s and Bell 205s are utility-purpose helicopters and, in addition to heli- skiing in the winter, are commonly used in many roles within various "" In our type of business, we want to keep the aircraft as safely busy as possible. We don't want to be tempted by opportunities that present only a small window of opportunity"