VIH Helicopters Adds State-of-the-Art Flight Tracking System
Written by Drew McCarthy
Whether to comply with new provincial forestry services requirements or as a value-added feature to attract new customers, satellite flight tracking is a “must have” in much of the Canadian helicopter industry these days.
In November 2007, VIH Helicopters of Victoria, B.C. decided to equip its fleet of more than 50 helicopters with a state-of-the-art system. Says Brian Mycroft, director of operations for VIH Helicopters, “The initial decision to purchase a satellite tracking system came as the result of industry pressure. Several of our major clients are asking for some form of sat-tracking.”
Indeed, these days, government forestry agencies and major petroleum companies are requiring their contractors to provide satellite-based flight following. According to Mycroft, the advantages accrue to both VIH Helicopters’ operations and its clients alike.
“Our customers need to know where their people are and what they are doing at any given time,” says Mycroft. “At the same time, knowing where all of our assets are is of vital importance to our operations.”
For both forestry service contracts and corporate customers, the system provides due diligence and accountability. Customers have ensured that their employees are as safe as possible and they also know whether or not they are being charged the right amount for the job.
After researching the market and doing some testing, VIH Helicopters decided on Blue Sky Network’s Iridium-based tracking solution (Iridium satellite). It has recently begun purchasing Blue Sky’s D1000C and ACH1000 kits to install on its fleet.
Weighing about 4.5 lbs., the D1000C is a portable solution that is easy to install, says Jonas Olsen, VP of sales and business development for Blue Sky Network. “It provides near real-time fleet tracking with built-in GPS position reporting, an Iridium transceiver and telemetry data link.”
VIH Helicopters chose to purchase ACH1000 control heads that in combination with the D1000C, provide pilots and ground staff with voice and/or two-way text messaging connectivity.
VIH Helicopters operates five bases out of western Canada and each of these locations will be able to monitor the company’s domestic flights. The ability to be in touch with any pilot at any given time is a great advantage in dispatching, fleet staging and making crew changes throughout western Canada.
Because the system is based on the Iridium satellite network, the instances of lost signals are minimal to non-existent. VIH Helicopters’ Canadian missions are flown primarily outside of the urban jungle and aircraft are almost always visible to the people on the ground.
Mycroft says that the network has proven to be 100 per cent reliable. On occasion an aircraft may disappear momentarily into a river valley or behind a mountain, but will reappear as soon as the helicopter has cleared the obstruction. This fact underscores one of the system’s most important advantages. It provides a higher level of safety. As Olsen points out, “It takes the ‘search’ out of ‘search and rescue’.”
VIH Helicopters is now also able to follow its increasing number of internationally contracted aircraft. The equipment is already in use in the Cougar Helicopter division of VIH Aviation Group, assisting in offshore oil and gas service. Installing the same solutions on VIH Helicopters allows for greater flexibility and increased security with international flight following of VIH aircraft through Cougar Helicopters’ 24-hour state-of-the-art dispatch center.
One of the most important reasons for selecting Blue Sky Network, says Mycroft, was because of the ease in which those on the ground can use the system. The system runs on a regular PC and anyone in the company can monitor the fleet from a laptop through the Internet. The system can also be up and running in a very short time because installation is quick and there is little or no training involved for either pilots or dispatchers.
VIH Helicopters is installing the units itself through its own MRO department and at the time of writing had already completed eight of the 50-plus installations.