Midlands-based utility and survey specialist Helicentre Aviation are modernising their 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 and they fly more than 2,000 hours per year on task. Prior to successfully tendering for the eight year 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 was actioned following discussions in conjunction with National Grid held over a twelve month period to find a solution to modernise ageing technology. The decision-making 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 after looking at a number of platforms and considering all operational factors. 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 technologically up-to-date aircraft.
Helicentre Aviation has invested heavily in purchasing their own utility fleet, starting with three dedicated airframes and two more backup aircraft already on the way. Not only has the company invested into the platforms, major investment has also been put into crews, allowing the training of more pilots, examiners and TREs, as well as development of on-site maintenance facilities to support a Part-145 base in conjunction 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.
Besides operating on behalf of National Grid, Helicentre Aviation has been awarded contracts to operate pipeline survey for several blue chip utility clients in the last five years. It is planned that the company’s modern fleet will continue to expand to support the demand for its aerial surveillance services in the future.