Five Essential Services Helicopter Companies Provide
Over the past 8 months, millions of essential workers around the United States have braved their work in the face of an unprecedented pandemic. Nurses, doctors and first responders have battled the virus on the frontlines of the nation’s hospitals and communities, and many workers—from the government sector to the energy industry— have ensured that the country’s essential services remain intact.
But the umbrella for essential work is wide, encompassing businesses across every industry and area of work in the country, including helicopter services. In fact, helicopter chartering is a fundamental tool of several key industries and organizations which have proven indispensable in meeting the challenges of this time. On account of their agility and versatility, helicopters are routinely called on by the private and public sectors to perform essential tasks in ensuring public health and safety.
Here are just a few of the essential services provided by helicopter companies.
Air Medical Services and Clinical Care Transport
The ability to quickly transport a seriously injured or ill patient to the hospital is among the most important factors in correcting the course of a patient’s health—and among the most vital services helicopters provide. Hospitals, emergency services and military officials often call on helicopters to perform life-saving air medical and clinical care transport when patients are most in need.
Helicopters were used successfully for the transfer of wounded soldiers from the battlefields in the Korean and Vietnam wars. After, this model of patient transfer was translated to the civilian setting, first in the US. First responders and medical professionals understood that helicopter transport could be used to drastically reduce the mortality rates of accident victims and critically ill patients, and since, countless lives have been saved. In fact, the Association of Air Medical Services estimates that there are close to 400,000 rotor-wing medical transports a year in the U.S. alone.
The ability to quickly move patients by medical helicopter is especially vital in what is known as the golden hour—the first hour after a traumatic injury, considered the most critical for successful emergency treatment.
Advanced trauma and life-support guidelines—a protocol followed by many trained helicopter pilots with military or ambulance transport experience—state that there are three peaks of mortality following a major trauma. Some patients will expire immediately from life-threatening injuries; others will expire in the 60-minute window following the incident, and some will expire from delayed complications. The second peak of mortality—the so-called golden hour—represents the patients for whom rapid transfer to an emergency medical care facility from the scene of injury is likely life-saving. In transferring patients to the hospital quickly, helicopter transport maximizes the proportion of the golden hour spent in a hospital setting, where reversible conditions can be treated.
While many hospitals contract trained helicopter services and helicopter ambulances to transport patients from the field, many others also use helicopters to transport already admitted patients to specialized care facilities or alternative hospitals. Often, only helicopters have the range, mobility and precision to handle the most sensitive transport needs for critical patients.
Helicopter Express’ trained team of helicopter pilots have often been involved in life-saving missions, largely as they relate to disaster relief efforts within devastated communities and hard-to-reach locations.
Construction and utility work—particularly utility work involved in ensuring electrical power and the maintenance of complicated grid systems—is essential. Many utility companies and construction businesses rely heavily on the services of helicopters, and as such, helicopters play a vital role in ensuring the stability of our electrical and grid systems.
Helicopters have been used to support the utility industry since 1947, when the first civilian certified aircraft became available in the United States. As helicopters have become more capable and reliable, their use has expanded—and continues to expand—in the utility industry to provide cost-effective support. On a normal workday, thousands of flight hours are accumulated by pilots servicing electrical and construction companies.
Generally, helicopters are used to perform several key tasks in the energy industry:
Power line installations and patrol
Helicopter pilots and experienced lineman often provide the construction support and specialized services needed for line construction projects, from initial project surveys to final inspections. Helicopters, for example, are routinely used in projects meant to replace aging electrical power lines or to ensure electrical reliability for utility customers.
Most often, utility construction companies call on helicopter services—like Helicopter Express—to perform routine power line patrols, which provide a cost-effective means of visually inspecting electric utility structures and conductors. To do so, helicopters fly through the wire environment to survey the area, identifying the encroachment of manmade or naturally occurring elements that pose hazards to the reliability of the grid system.
Because detailed power line patrols require the aircraft to spend extended periods in hovering or slow flight, these services necessitate the most experienced helicopter and air construction pilots, like our team of expert operators.
Pipeline installation, patrol and maintenance
Utility companies also call on the lifting capabilities of a helicopter to speed up vital oil, gas, water and electrical pipeline construction projects. Transporting pipelines via traditional means can be incredibly time-consuming and expensive, and helicopter cranes are capable of transporting heavy pieces of pipeline in less than half the time.
Like with line patrol, utility companies routinely contract helicopter companies to perform pipeline patrols, which offer a cost-effective means of visually inspecting natural gas, oil and fuel pipelines to identify leakage or naturally occurring elements that pose hazards to the reliability of a pipe distribution system. In recent years sensors have been developed and tested for installation on aircraft top identity leaks on pipelines that cannot be found using visual or ground inspection methods.
Aerial Construction Support
Helicopters are used to aid a wide variety of functions across energy and electrical construction projects, often providing support to the essential building of infrastructure. Usually, this involves the transportation of essential crew or the crane lifting of materials and resources.
The construction industry relies heavily on helicopters to be able to transport crew from a staging area at the work site to the structures under construction, for example. If helicopters were not used to transport crews within the work area, utility companies would require that their workforce drive to the structure, climb the structure, conduct their work, descend and repeat—a costly, potentially dangerous, and time-consuming process.
In all, aerial installation and inspection of utilities via helicopter are often more cost-effective than other means of transportation, particularly at a time when efficiency and limited contact on the job is essential for ensuring the safety of a company’s workforce. Helicopters are more agile and precise, and they offer versatile load bearing capabilities. Importantly, they’re more reliable in high temperatures, high altitudes, high-pressure areas, and inaccessible regions.
The benefits of helicopter crane lifting are well-known, and many companies use helicopters to transport, lift and deliver supplies.
Most utility and construction helicopters can lift an average of 2,000 to 10,000 pounds, and because aerial cranes require virtually no setup, rigging cargo transport on a helicopter is relatively quick and easy. For this reason, many construction companies use crane helicopters for the transport of heavy materials and supplies around large construction sites. And because traditional ground cranes are not a viable or affordable option for construction on extremely large or remote buildings, helicopters are used for the precise installation, replacement or removal of commercial HVAC units, rooftop chillers, ventilation systems and adapter curbs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the varied cargo and load-bearing capabilities of helicopters have been employed in life-saving initiatives like the delivery of PPE and medical supply cargo to hospitals and communities in need.
As the pandemic rages on, cargo aircraft are in high demand for the large-scale delivery of medical supplies to municipalities and hospitals around the country. As such, the availability of airplanes and large aircraft has been limited, and often, payloads of essential supplies are split into smaller, local deliveries to airports and hospitals by helicopters. As the pandemic has raged on, helicopters have been seen all over the world dropping life-saving supplies to healthcare facilities or stranded enclaves of COVID-19 patients.
In May, for example, helicopters were used to transport 250,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) masks that were manufactured by a local North Carolina company to the Washington D.C. area. The mission exemplified the preparedness and quick response of the National Guard and of contracted helicopter services to provide vital supplies and equipment needed during the pandemic. Similar scenes have unfolded across the country. In March, for example, helicopters were used to deliver PPE and medical supplies to several stranded cruise liner ships with diagnosed COVID-19 patients onboard.
Helicopter Express’ 24-hour fleet of pilots and helicopters are always ready to respond to emergencies and urgent requests for cargo transport like these. Our highly skilled pilots are experienced in supplying food, water, medicine, personnel and other essential resources to expertly aid communities in crisis, and our full fleet of crane helicopters is equipped to meet the critical needs of cities devastated by natural disasters or public health crises.
Search and Rescue and Firefighting Missions
We have often written about the life-saving search and rescue and firefighting capabilities of helicopters on our blog because they’re some of the most important and essential services that helicopter companies, like Helicopter Express, are able to provide.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be the most challenging public health crisis in our country’s history, other natural disasters, like wildfires, persist on the West Coast. And essential workers, like firefighters, remain as integral and necessary for the safety of our communities as the healthcare workers on the frontlines of our hospitals.
Helicopter Express has a long history of lending our pilots and aircraft to firefighting missions around the world. In 2017, for example, Helicopter Express dispatched three modified Bell 205A-1 helicopters, a Kaman K-MAX aircraft and 10 of our highly-trained employees to fight wildfires in Chile, where fire destruction was catastrophic.
In wildfires or elsewhere, helicopters are also used to perform critical search and rescue operations, aiding first responders and park rangers in the essential service of saving stranded citizens across our national parks and forests.
Helicopters’ range, capability and agility make them ideal for these kinds of life-saving missions. Search and rescue helicopters can be instrumental in finding debris fields and survivors after a natural disaster has struck or an aircraft or water vessel has crashed or disappeared, and their slow speed and ability to hover make them the most effective vessel for performing close-up inspections of land and water. Helicopters are designed to brave the elements and remain stable in furious crosswinds and threatening climates, and in wildfires, their agility allows pilots to quickly locate and extract survivors.
Like with transportation and cargo logistics, the ability for helicopters to perform search and rescue missions has taken on particular salience during the coronavirus pandemic.
Early in the outbreak helicopters were used to rescue passengers off a stricken Grand Princess cruise ship, which had been held off the coast of Northern California after 21 of its passengers tested positive for coronavirus. The mission was a vital search and rescue step for securing the health of the infected passengers and in finding a controlled and expedited way to extract the patients from the cruise liner without endangering the health of the ship’s remaining uninfected passengers and crew members.
Government and Military Contracts
The United States government is the largest employer in the nation, and each year, a significant portion of the federal budget is allotted for awarding contracts to various service providers. The federal government, for example, awards upwards of $500 billion in contracts per year.
Helicopter companies make up a sizable portion of those contracts, often providing essential services to aid various governmental and military functions.
In 2019, for example, the United States Department of Defense launched the Worldwide Airlift Services Program to provide aircrew, ground personnel, supplies, support services, and airlift operations to military and commercial airports.
The program served as an initiative to employ private helicopter companies in providing critical support to the government’s various cargo and airlifting needs, including the movement of passengers and equipment, air ambulance services, medical evacuation, and supply services. Valued at over $5.7 billion, the program employed 17 helicopter companies in government work across the country. For many helicopter businesses, these contracts represented their largest source of work and revenue, maintaining the U.S. government’s status as a significant player in the helicopter services industry.
Helicopter Express, for example, has often been contracted by state and federal governments to perform essential work in the country's vast forest system.
For the past 25 years, the United States Forest Service (USFS) has been a principal client of ours. In the winter, Helicopter Express is often engaged in burning and surveying contracts in the Southeast, and in the summer, the USFS calls on Helicopter Express in the West to fight wildfires. In addition, the U.S. Department of Interior has consistently contracted Helicopter Express to serve the National Parks Service in Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding Bridger-Teton National Forest. There, we have completed key fire suppression initiatives and life-saving search and rescue missions.
At Helicopter Express, we’re always ready to serve.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented never-before-seen challenges to countries around the world, and the continued dedication of essential workers in every industry has proven immeasurable in helping our country weather this storm. At Helicopter Express, we pride ourselves in being able to provide a number of essential services to industries across the private and public sectors—from cargo and medical supply transportation to clinical support, aid to first responders and tools to maintain the United States’ vast energy system.
Our diverse fleet of helicopters and skilled crew members are ready and able to get to work at a moment’s notice. Our highly trained pilots—many with military backgrounds—are experienced in handling many of emergent challenges posed by a public health crisis of this size, from the supply of food, water, medicine, and personnel to communities in the need to the expert piloting and helicopter resources required to aid energy companies, hospitals, and municipalities around the country.