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Mar
02
2020

BON DOMESDI!

Posted 26 days ago ago by jhadmin


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"Bon domesdi y bën uni da meus tla Dolomites!" This is how you will be greeted and welcomed in the Dolomites in Ladin, a special and unique language spoken only in the region of northeast Italy. Only 40,000 people still speak Ladin and it is a language struggling to survive, but things are looking optimistic as a newly launched newspaper and TV station use the language. So, Ladin has a great chance of staying alive and in full use. But not only is the language in the Dolomites special, so are the people and so is the natural beauty.

The Dolomites are a majestic mountain range declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. Besides breathtaking views, ski slopes, and infamous hiking trails, they offer an amazing 300 days of sunshine per year. For all sun lovers, this is a must-visit destination. The best part of it is you can visit the Dolomites by foot, with an e-bike, or enjoy the view from a higher, birds-eye perspective.

Since 1998, you can catch a sightseeing flight with Elikos Helicopters owned by two brothers: Gabriel and Marco Kostner.

FROM CARGO FLYING TO INSTAGRAM TOURISM

The Kostner brothers possess amazing energy and goodwill. Their story starts in 1998, when they decided to launch Elikos Helicopters without even owning a helicopter. They rented an aircraft and started their business by doing mainly cargo hook flights.

Business grew and so did the opportunity to really launch their own helicopter services. With his fierce energy, Gabriel walked into the bank and walked out with a $1.2 million bank loan. That covered their first investment: an Airbus AS 350 B3, that is still in action and proudly stands in their hangar. Gabriel says, "We will never sell it; it is our first one."

Their company started thriving: cargo is now merely 60% of the business, sightseeing flights have grown, stepping aside only when the operator is shooting commercials and doing filming flights.

“There is a lot more sightseeing flights now, as the Dolomites became part of the UNESCO heritage. We have people from all over the world now," explains Gabriel. Today’s sightseeing flights are slightly different than they used to be. “Instagram tourism is the new thing. Social media tourism. They come just to get a picture on an explicit location just because they saw it on Instagram. They take the picture and go."

FLYING THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

The northern Dolomites are offer some of the best weather conditions in all of the Alps. They receive the lowest amount of rain and snow as the southern Dolomites usually break up the larger storms, leaving the north with nicer, more welcoming conditions.

The Dolomites are actually a year-round tourist destination. The summer months offer pleasant temperatures with gentle breezes and loads of sunshine. In this area, you get an average eight out of 10 sunny days. By contrast, the winter months are cold and snowy.  "In winter, we don't do many cargo hook flights as the construction companies mainly don't work then. We do a lot of sightseeing. We have many transfers between different ski areas. We have over 400 ski slopes and 1.300 kilometers of slopes so you can really enjoy skiing long distances. As an example, you can ski from Val Gardena to Cortina d'Ampezzo. This is when you need us at the end of the day to fly you back," says Gabriel. Their helicopter comes to pick you up and take you back to where you started your skiing day.

The fall with its warm temperatures makes it a perfect late summer getaway. Spring is  the season with the most rain, but because of that you can enjoy amazing views as it makes all the valleys turn vivid green.

The Dolomites have quite a lot of rugged terrain, high mountains and not so easily accessible "rifugios" (or in English: mountain huts) all of which are perfect reasons for needing a helicopter. Even though one might think the opposite, flying conditions in the Dolomites are nice and easy, as the weather is very stable without many foggy and extremely windy days. "We often fly in the Alps as well, but the north usually has a lot more bad weather and flying there is usually more challenging and difficult than in the Dolomites," says Gabriel.

Nevertheless, Gabriel explains that the weather is of course the most important factor. For cargo-hook and sightseeing flights it doesn't matter as much as one can can wait a couple of hours for the weather to stabilize. Gabriel also works for the Dolomite helicopter rescue team and emphasizes that these are the more tricky and risky situations. "You know someone needs your help, but you always have to evaluate the situation. If it is too dangerous you cannot risk the lives of the rescuers as well. But to be honest, I haven't had a bad experience or incident in all the 30 years I have been working in rescue."

BUSINESS STRATEGY AND MANAGEMENT

Since their beginning, the Kostner brothers have expanded their team. They now have five pilots, two technicians, and three other workers who help with a bit of everything but mainly take care of the operator’s two maintenance trucks that follow the helicopters and provide them with fuel and other necessities. This allows a helicopter to fly for up to ten hours straight.  The employees are basically treated like family, and some of them actually are. Two of the pilots are nephews and Gabriel says that he is hoping they will continue flying for Elikos in the future, even when he and Marco are not with the company.

The helicopter fleet is comprised of two Airbus AS 350 B3s, an H125, and one Airbus AS350 BA, which is not owned by the brothers but can be used when an additional helicopter is needed.

Gabriel says, “We do not want to expand the company. We want to leave it like this and make it good and successful; our vision isn't just to grow and make more money. Our idea is that the world needs a lot of small local companies, because clients really know you and trust you. It is not only a money thing; it is so much more. It is about the business and about our clients. In 30 years, I have often seen big companies wanting everything and growing rapidly, but they also quickly lost control of the situation and lost their clients. You can't have everything. The one thing I still would like to achieve is building a bigger helipad and a nicer and more cozy lounge for our guests.

In a way, it seems Gabriel, Marco, and their team do have everything. The synergy between them and their mindset are obviously the key to their success. "I have the nicest job in the world," explains Gabriel. "It's never boring and it changes so rapidly. You work with all types of people – with ordinary workers and with princesses. And workers are just as interesting as princesses, but different," he adds with a smile. "My job gives me the absolute sense of freedom."

No helicopter can fly without good maintenance. Gabriel says, "The maintenance company StarWork Sky takes care of our helicopters. We have one certified technician who follows up and takes care of our helicopters and has been with us for the past 27 years." He explains that periodic 150-hour maintenance service is done in their hangar. For the larger maintenance services every 600 flight hours, they fly their helicopters to StarWork Sky.

Gabriel says, "The Airbus's that we operate are the perfect fit for us. We are more than satisfied with the Airbus H125 as it is perfect for lifting so much cargo weight. Our specialties are transport and installation flights, up to 1,400 kilometers above sea level. Our services include external load transport, precision mounting, cable-car installation, power-line installation, concrete and timber transport, supplying mountain huts, firefighting, animal rescue, avalanche blasting, and civil defense." For all these jobs, he explains that the Airbus H125 is the best. Furthermore, he is very happy with the support he gets from Airbus as they are  efficient, fast, and always available to help.

The Dolomites are truly an amazing place that provide spectacular views, protected climbing paths, cycling trips, and amazing mountain huts. The Elikos team are aware of their surroundings and the natural surroundings that they are blessed to work in.  With their humble and grateful attitude they are sure to stay on the list of the not-too-big and customer-focussed companies for a long time to come.


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