The Amazing Helicopter Race

  • The Amazing Helicopter Race

    Some say it is a myth based on fact, which has been exaggerated by industry stakeholders. Some live and breathe it every year around April 15th.


    The bottom line is every time the weather gets warmer and dryer in the spring and summer months, forest fire season starts in Canada and the United States.


    Which means all available helicopters are pressed into forest fire fighting duties. But how does the government decide which helicopter operators get the contracts? It doesn’t, contracts are handed out on a first-come first-serve basis. However, it is not a simple phone call or email that saves your place in line, you literally have to have an aircraft landed at the designated distribution point holding your place in line.


    So every year, aircraft have to be in position by April 15th and the first contracts are handed out on May 1st. Any AME will tell you the pressure they are under each year to have their aircraft 100% operational by the beginning of April.


    The distribution point for eastern and northern Canada is Dryden, Ontario. Some refer to it as the “Aluminum Highway” of helicopters racing to Dryden hoping to get a spot close to the front of the line.


    We have always pictured rival helicopter operators weaving in and out of the Rocky Mountains, cutting each other off and flipping the finger at one another. But that may be our imagination running just a little bit wild. The helicopter industry is more of a brotherhood with everyone looking out for one another.


    Fire season is also a busy time for helicopter ground transportation. Aircraft experience hard landings, blade strikes or just general engine problems rendering them inoperable. However, the purpose of this blog article is to discuss the enormous costs involved in flying a helicopter over a long distance while not generating revenue.
    Helicopter Fire fighting

    Real World Example


    Let’s say you own a Bell 212 and you want to cash in on the lucrative firefighting contracts being handed out in Dryden, Ontario. From Abbotsford, BC to Dryden, ON is 1600 miles, roughly 30 hours driving time.


    Flight time at that distance would be approximately 15 hours, a Bell 212 has a maximum fuel capacity of 2-3 hours depending on whether or not it has an extra fuel tank. At cruising speed a Bell 212 will consume roughly 100 US gallons (377 litres) of fuel per hour. At $5 a gallon for fuel, that is $500 per hour of flight time just on fuel. Let’s begin a running total:


    • $500 per hour x 15 hours = $7500


    On top of that you will have to pay a pilot, for the sake of argument let’s say $500 per day in pilot fees. That number will vary depending on the experience of the pilot and the rate of pay offered by various helicopter operations. In addition, you would most likely bring along an engineer in case of mechanical problems, budget $400 per day for an engineer.


    Let’s also assume at least 3 days travel time, considering you would have to land every two hours to refuel and a pilot needs a certain number of rest hours before flying. That means you will have accommodations and food for two people for 3 days, let’s add that to the total:


    • Fuel: $7500
    • Wages: $2700
    • Accommodations: $500


    On top of all that you will have to pay landing fees at each fuel stop, along with overnight airport fees for keeping your aircraft secure. While again these fees would vary, let’s conservatively assume a $200 charge for landing and $500 for keeping an aircraft parked overnight. Your aircraft will need to land at least 7 times based on the distance involved and be parked overnight 3 times.


    • Fuel: $7500
    • Wages: $2700
    • Accommodations: $500
    • Landing & overnight fees: $2900
    Total: $13,600


    So that is a conservative estimate of a $13,600 bill just to get to the distribution point, before generating any revenue and before even knowing if you will get in on the first round of contracts.


    One thing we did not mention in our base costs is insurance. A necessary evil in this world and it can be extremely costly. In addition, the base costs could increase significantly due to weather delays that prevent the aircraft from flying.


    On top of these base costs, you also have to consider the wear on sensitive components. A helicopter transmission can only have around 1000 hours on it before it needs a complete overhaul that could cost up to $250,000. An engine overhaul could be twice that amount.


    So the question is: why waste 15 precious hours of flight time on your multi-million dollar aircraft when you are not generating any revenue?


    Especially when transporting a helicopter on the road would be less than the base cost of operating the aircraft, weather would not be a factor and there would be no “empty” hours on your aircraft that aren’t generating revenue.


    IMT would use its fully enclosed Heli-Trailer to protect the aircraft from road debris. In addition, our trailer will fit a Bell 212 without removing the mast and rotor head!

    Helicopter Trailer

    IMT Custom Heli-Trailer

    Of course when you ask a pilot, they are always going to want to fly because they need the hours in the air. But to the owner of an aircraft, these costs are real and affect their bottom line significantly.


    Imagine you had a fleet of aircraft using the scenario laid out above. Your costs could triple or more before you have generated $1 of revenue.

    Interested in finding out the cost for ground transportation? Fill out an Estimate Request and we will be happy to give you a quote.


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