Midlands-based utility and survey specialist Helicentre Aviation is modernising its helicopter fleet for the National Grid gas contract, the UK’s largest onshore pipeline surveillance contract.
Three highly specced Robinson R44 Raven II helicopters, painted in a bespoke utility design are replacing the leased Bell 206 helicopters that have been operated by the company on the contract since late 2010.
In 2013 Helicentre Aviation were awarded an eight-year contract to survey gas pipelines for National Grid. The company operates nationwide, 52 weeks a year from their two Midlands bases, Leicester and Wolverhampton. They fly more than 2,000 hours per year on task.
Prior to successfully tendering for the contract, the company had already been operating for National Grid for a number of years, employing both the pilots and observers, and providing operational support.
The fleet replacement programme follows discussions with National Grid. The process involved extensive testing and investigation to establish the most suitable, modern and future-proof platform to provide longevity, pilot comfort and operational flexibility.
The fuel-injected Robinson R44 Raven II was selected jointly by Helicentre Aviation and National Grid. The company’s operational expertise and confidence in the R44 was also a major consideration in reaching the decision. A significant advantage with operating R44s is that the airframes will be re-built every 18 months allowing the customer to benefit from continuously refreshed and up-to-date aircraft.
Helicentre Aviation has invested heavily in purchasing its own utility fleet, starting with three dedicated airframes and two more backup aircraft. Major investment has also been put into crews, training more pilots, examiners and TREs. On-site maintenance facilities to support a Part-145 base have been developed with East Midlands Helicopters Engineering.
Aircraft spec will include iPads which will be carried on board providing mapping and enhanced operational safety features. The Lynx NGT-9000+ Traffic Avoidance System has been selected to provide in-flight traffic overlays onto moving maps.
Multiple 8.33kHz compliant radios and several other Robinson approved mods such as the five-point safety harnesses will be utilised. Integrated flight tracking systems currently used onboard the company’s training aircraft will provide ground operations with enhanced flight following capability.