The many ways i n which a helicopter can be put to use never ceases to amaze, and planting trees is one of them: This is in fact the specialty and primary activity of the young Canadian company Slave Lake Helicopters Ltd (SLH), which takes its name from the city where it is based, in the center of the Province of Alberta.
The company transports young saplings and the people who plant them into the thick of the Canadian forests. The plants are carried in large boxes that are attached to the helicopter sling. The missions are flown out of base camps during the summer months for agriculture companies appointed by the government. The helicopter is still the most efficient and cost-effective means of transportation for this type of work, as the plantation sites are difficult to reach: It takes the helicopter just a few minutes to reach areas that would take a 4x4 up to ten times longer! A staggering amount of trees can therefore be planted: Approximately 100 million pine and spruce trees adapted to the polar climate are planted each year in the Province of Alberta. And the rate at which they are planted is no less impressive: 2,500 a day by a single, seasoned planter! These summer jobs are avidly sought after by Canadian students as they are paid from 12 to 15 Canadian cents per tree! About half of the trees are carried by helicopter, and SLH alone is responsible for planting approximately 10 million trees annually. The company is therefore the leading specialist in its field, and has already helped plant 82 million trees since it was founded.
A Modern Fleet
It’s easy to work out what SLH looks for in a helicopter for this type of mission: The capacity to lift heavy loads (both personnel and sling loads), flexibility and speed to ensure the maximum number of rotations per mission. These are the main reasons why SLH chose Eurocopter aircraft. The company began its activities with a Bell 206 LongRanger in 1998, and then purchased its first AStar in 1999, followed by a new AS350 B2 AStar/Ecureuil in 2005. SLH now operates six helicopters, including five from the Eurocopter fleet (four AS350 B2 AStar/Ecureuils and an EC120). The performance levels of the AS350 B2 AStar/ Ecureuil are particularly appreciated, especially in hot weather. In a single cycle of rotations, the AStar/Ecureuil can transport up to 40 boxes of trees before refueling (about 10,800 saplings in two hours). Slave Lake Helicopters has ordered three additional Eurocopter aircraft, which are scheduled for delivery in spring 2009 and June 2010. Like the current EC120 Bs operated by SLH, they will be equipped with integrated digital avionics systems with flat screens. SLH was the first Canadian operator to use this equipment on an AStar/ Ecureuil.
“It’s extremely important for us to operate modern helicopters,” stressed George Kelham, President and CEO of Slave Lake Helicopters. "This not only makes our aircraft safer and easier to fly and maintain, it also guarantees quality service for our customers.