Safety in a marine climate is paramount to Advanced Flight, a New Zealand-based private helicopter operator. Stephen Farmer, an operator and pilot of the company's new H145, recounts his experience on the powerful twin-engine rotorcraft.
The strong 40 to 50 knot winds and heavy downpour from the morning have eased, and a clear sun is peaking out onto Advanced Flight’s Auckland helipad. The recently acquired H145 is being prepped for the afternoon’s flight. “A lot of the time we’re flying our friends and family around. They’re very important people and we want to make sure that the product is good and safe,” says Farmer.
Once the checks have been made, the H145 is ready for flight and the pilot takes his position. The helicopter soon lifts into the air above the mossy green cliffs and cruises over the sailboat-speckled coastline below. “Whichever route we fly, we can probably always see the ocean, on one side or another. So we have a lot of challenges in terms of maintenance and corrosion.”
Assuring they will receive effective support is critical in the volatile marine climate. And at 19,000 kilometers, New Zealand is about as far away as you can get from where the Airbus H145 helicopter is manufactured in Donauwörth, Germany. “It can make you a bit nervous in terms of service and support. We have a long association with Airbus Helicopters, going back about 25 years, and I can only say that the service has just gotten better and better. Ten years ago, if something happened, you might be on the ground for three days before you sorted it out. Today, if there is an issue and we need a part, typically we have an answer within a few hours. With better distribution through Airbus Helicopter’s logistic platform in Hong-Kong, and deployment of more capabilities in the region in places like Singapore, the time frames have gotten much shorter. I think Airbus themselves recognized that they need to have 24/7 capability in order to have people available in view of the big time difference.”
When asked about the helicopter’s safety features, such as its One Engine Inoperative performance, Farmer nods and replies, “the capabilities of the machine have just increased to a point where it is no longer a concern. Where in a BK117 C2 you would be thinking: how tight is this pad, what’s happening with the wind, and what is my fuel load? Even if you had planned in advance, things could have changed during the flight. You might arrive and the weather is different. In the H145, it just has that reserve of take-off power that means you’re always just going to fly away. During the training, we had demonstrations of being in an engine failure and there’s no need to panic. You just wait, sort everything out and then fly away. It means we have a much higher level of confidence and safety.”
After 25 years, Farmer has stood witness to the product line’s evolution. Advanced Flight first started out with an AS350B2, followed by a BK117 B2, EC135 P1, EC135P2, BK117C2 (EC145), before receiving the H145. “If you had asked me last year, I would have said that the C2 was the best helicopter we had ever owned. The C2 was outstanding. We’ve had the H145 for about 9 months now, completing about 140 flight hours and it’s now the best one. It takes a bit of training and knowledge to get used to it because it is a bigger step up than you would first think on paper, but it is very capable. Unbelievably capable.”
The 4-ton-class twin-engine rotorcraft is also outfitted with the new Helionix® avionics suite, which is a major advantage for Farmer. “I saw that integrating the platforms using the family concept was a big benefit moving forward. It was always difficult with third party suppliers if you had a problem on our other machines. Whereas now, we feel like we are just dealing with one company, Airbus Helicopters. The avionics is a big change from the C2, but after 9 months, you wouldn’t be without it. It’s very easy.”
An afternoon of flying over turquoise blue water and the city of Auckland comes to an end and Farmer navigates the H145 back to its base. Upon landing and stepping back to look at the helicopter, Farmer remarks, “The feedback from our clients has been outstanding – everyone is impressed. When you fly in it, you can tell by the smoothness that the vibration system is much better. The fenestron gives us extra safety while reducing the noise and adding power. Everyone that has been near it has just said, ‘Wow.’ We’re very satisfied.”