AHSAFA Applauds Columbia Helicopters On Its Tenth Diamond Award

Washington, D.C., April 14, 2014….The American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) congratulates Columbia Helicopters on receiving its 10th William (Bill) O’Brien Aviation Maintenance Technician Employer Diamond Award Of Excellence. Presentation of the award will be on June 26, by Ron Reeves, FAA Safety Team Program Manager for the NW Mountain Region, Portland Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).

“The Diamond Award of Excellence is one of the most challenging to achieve in the field of aircraft maintenance,” said Tom Eversole, AHSAFA Executive Director. “We applaud the dedicated Columbia Helicopters maintenance operation staff for having won this award 10 times during the past 19 years.”

Based in Portland, Oregon, Columbia Helicopters is a global provider of helicopter services in support of aerial firefighting and natural resource extraction, as well as the operator of a well-known repair station focusing on heavy helicopter airframes and engines. Columbia’s dedicated maintenance training team works through the company’s Quality Control Department and includes a staff of five people, most of whom had transferred to training after working as aircraft mechanics.

The Employer Diamond Award of Excellence, established in 1992, is given annually by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in recognition of excellence in training to companies engaged full-time in repairing aircraft or component parts, with at least three full-time aviation maintenance technicians (AMT) on staff. Company eligibility for the Diamond Award also requires that 100 percent of the organization’s eligible employees were awarded an individual William (Bill) O’Brien AMT Award for the previous calendar year. The individual awards are Bronze, Silver, and Gold, each with its own requirements for training hours, and course work. The course work includes mandatory “core training,” which for the past few years has focused on human factors which could lead to an accident or incident.

A Gold William (Bill) O’Brien AMT Award of Excellence is also available to aviation repair companies, which can certify that at least 50 percent of their eligible people earned the individual AMT awards.

“We are very dedicated to maintaining the competency and safety practices of our maintenance staff,” stated Ken Callahan, Columbia Helicopters’ Training Program Manager. “Among our training priorities, in fact, is the awareness factor, which means that people maintaining aircraft must be constantly aware of all safety and risk factors. This is especially important to us since we are an air carrier, as well as a repair station.”

Callahan added that as a company with contracts worldwide, all of its technicians must be aware of the different types of certifications and operations specifications (OpSpecs) under which the helicopters are flown and maintained. “It is central to our business to keep our people competent in what they do, and focused on the OpSpecs in the different certification requirements.”

Columbia Helicopters, he explained, conducts employee training at its Portland facility, as well as via its internal website for its technicians working away from the home base. It also supplies courseware on DVDs to its mechanics working in remote areas where Internet access is either spotty or non-existent. “Training is constantly updated with changes in regulations, procedures, and equipment,” Callahan noted.

Columbia Helicopters is a member of AHSAFA, the Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing the privately operated aerial firefighting industry in the US.

Aerial Firefighters Pressing Colorado Lawmakers To Consider Contracting

Washington, D.C., March 28….At the urging of the privately operated aerial firefighting industry, Colorado State Senator Steve King (R-Grand Junction) has inserted language into a Bill, which–if enacted–would give the Colorado Division Of Fire Prevention And Control the authority to lease or contract three Type 1 helicopters and up to “four large aircraft from the Federal government or other sources” for aerial firefighting.  The legislative proposal, known as Senate Bill 164, also contains a purchase option.

“We fully support the efforts of the State of Colorado to employ assets for aerial firefighting, but we believe it will be far more cost efficient to contract those assets from the private aerial firefighting industry, which is prepared to make them available for this year’s fire season,” said Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA).  “We applaud the fact that, unlike legislation introduced last year, Senate Bill 164 specifically includes language which permits the State of Colorado to contract those aircraft from private operators.”

According to Ron Hooper, Chief Executive Officer of Missoula, Montana-based Neptune Aviation Services, the biggest impediment to state ownership and operation of aerial firefighting assets is what he called “the very large initial upfront investment,” which he explained.

“The state would be looking at aircraft acquisition costs and the expenses associated with the operational support infrastructure which includes constructing or leasing hangars, the hiring of flight crews and mechanics, and a spare parts inventory—all of which could run into the tens of millions of dollars.  However, by contracting with private operators, these large upfront costs would be avoided.”

Neptune Aviation Services, Hooper pointed out, is currently engaged in discussions with high level Colorado state government officials concerning the contracting of an aircraft and crews for this year’s fire season.

“We could make a BAe 146 Next Generation tanker available on either a long-term exclusive use contract of as much as five years, or for as little as one year to help the state government get the initial experience of working with a private operator,” he noted.  “We respect Colorado’s long term plan to have a dedicated aerial firefighting force, but we believe they should consider at least a one year contract with a private operator as a practical interim measure to protect the critical watershed in western Colorado,” said Hooper.

Larry Kelley, Director of Fire Operations for CHI Aviation in Boise, Idaho, reported that should Colorado issue a request for proposal (RFP), the company could make a Sikorsky S-61, or a Eurocopter 332L-1 Puma available in June of this year for the duration of this year’s fire season.  Both are Type 1 helicopters.  While CHI Aviation, according to Kelley, has not had discussions with the Colorado state government about contracting operation of the helicopters, he reported that contracting would be a “win-win” situation.

“We already have the pilots on staff, and we are paying their salaries as well as their training costs.  In addition, Colorado would receive a helicopter that is ready to fight fires, and position it to whatever location requested by the state,” Kelley said.

“When a state has an exclusive use contract with an aerial firefighting operator, the state knows it will have that resource available to them throughout the contract period, and not have to worry about it being moved elsewhere—which can happen with a tanker on a US Forest Service contract,” said Kristin Edwards, Vice-President, Sales for Olney, Texas-based Air Tractor, Inc.  The company manufacturers the AT-802F, a single engine air tanker which has been used under state fire protection contracts.  “In fact, I know of one operator of our aircraft, which has had contracts with Colorado since the 1990s.  I am glad to see that Colorado continues to consider contracting with private operators, instead of having to deal with the costs of owning and maintaining their own aircraft.”

Air Tractor, Inc., CHI Aviation, and Neptune Aviation Services are members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wild land firefighting.