West Coast Helicopters
Whether it’s for seeding and fertilising, forest fire suppression or just nice photography, being in the air has its unique advantages. West Coast Helicopters certainly recognises those advantages and leverages them to better serve its community and customers.
Established in 1994 with only two helicopters and a make-shift hangar, West Coast Helicopters was built on the belief that it could be a successful if everyone delivered on the mandate of ‘safety, service and reliability.’ Soon after it started, the company grew to be a premier light and intermediate day VFR—regulations allowing pilots to fly in clear weather conditions—helicopter service provider on Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s mid coast.
Today, West Coast Helicopters has 45 employees, four bases located in Port McNeill, Bella Coola, Campbell River and Nanaimo, as well as a fleet of 12 helicopters that work in a vast and challenging operating territory of about 50,000 square miles. One element of the business that has remained unchanged is its initial mandate.
Meet the fleet
The strongest and most versatile of West Coast Helicopters’ fleet are its five Eurocopter B2 series AStar helicopters. With the capacity to seat six passengers who all face the same direction and, thus, see the same things at the same time, the Astar makes an excellent viewing platform. Add in a three-hour endurance time, a 350-nautical-mile range and the ability to lift straight out of a confined area and you start to see the power this aircraft is known for.
Next is the Bell Jet Ranger (B206). Although the model was originally designed in the mid-1960s, it is still a stalwart contributor to service work on the coast. Whether being hired as a communication platform, reconnaissance airframe or for crew and equipment moves in isolated areas, the B206 continues to get the job done in style. Easy to maintain and operate, the B206 is often requested for support work in coastal logging camps.
Last are the two McDonnell Douglas 500D model helicopters (MD500D), which are known to be quick, nimble and very capable in specialty operations. Not only is the MD500D the backbone of the company’s shake block extraction work, but it also excels when it comes to working in small, confined areas with dense undergrowth.
With a fleet this size, you can see why West Coast Helicopters is able to offer a variety of services for forestry applications, aerial deliveries and leisure activities, including heli-fishing, heli-skiing and heli-hiking.
In addition to its array of offerings, another part of the company’s business is a maintenance centre, where in-house engineers and technicians can do everything from minor repairs and paintjobs, to complete overhauls.
Worth mentioning is West Coast Helicopters’ dedication to environmental stewardship. Located in the breath-taking rainforest and mountain region—in which climate and animal life are very susceptible to any disturbances—the company makes it a top priority to help maintain British Columbia’s coastal environment.
Working hard to be as environmentally sound as possible, West Coast Helicopters carries out precautions such as double-lined fuel cache dumpsters, complete with spill kits to ensure its surroundings are protected. Further, when designing its state-of-the-art Port McNeill hangar, the team incorporated a wind turbine and rain catch roof in an effort to help reduce its carbon footprint and use renewable resources.
In recognition for its efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, West Coast Helicopters won the Port McNeill “Green” Award this year—their other award that evening was “Business of the Year” for promoting strong economic welfare and being community minded.
Training and safety
If you recall the company mantra ‘safety, service and reliability,’ you will note that safety comes first. That is probably because British Columbia’s west coast is one of the most hostile and challenging environments for helicopter operations.
In order to consistently deliver a superior and safe service, West Coast Helicopters has developed a series of in-house training programs that meet and often exceed Transport Canada standards. Whether it is mountain flying, low-visibility flying, pilot decision-making or human-factors training, these programs make sure to address all the critical issues inherent to working in the coastal mountain environment.
Along with stringent training, the company has worked hard to create a safety culture, where safety is the default setting for all employees, including managers. The safety policy adds structure to the philosophy of accident and incident prevention, hazard reduction and the elimination of injury to personnel and damage to aircraft and equipment. It outlines proper reporting, inspection, risk management, emergency response and awareness procedures, as well as effectiveness through internal and external audits.
West Coast Helicopters even developed its own hazard identification and reporting system, called “IAMCaT.” All files are assessed and mitigated using a severity and probability matrix. Rectifications are tracked for a series of different indictors and finally, the knowledge gained from the data is then used to develop and improve the in-house human factors training program.
For such a relatively young company, West Coast Helicopters has positioned itself, its employees, its community and the environment to thrive in years to come. Already a market leader in British Columbia, this is a company to watch out for.