HAI forum for global collaboration provides connection, best practices.
At HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 in Anaheim, California, newly appointed HAI President and CEO James A. Viola announced the association’s commitment to increase international collaboration within the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) industry. A key piece of that initiative, HAI’s International Partnership Program (IPP), was announced on Jun. 30, 2020.
By bringing together the leaders of global helicopter organizations, the IPP promotes common safety and operational standards as well as best practices through collaboration. Program participants gather in a quarterly virtual meeting to discuss regional, operational, and global concerns ranging from regulations and standardization to topical issues such as firefighting or the coronavirus pandemic.
“In this first year, the IPP is focused on big-picture items, providing leaders of helicopter associations around the world a platform to share their input, advice, and observations on the issues facing their members,” says HAI Senior Director of Operations and International Affairs Chris Martino, who coordinates the program.
In the first nine months, HAI’s IPP program has expanded to include the Chilean Helicopter Association (ACHHEL), Australian Helicopter Industry Association (AHIA), British Helicopter Association (BHA), Helicopter Association of Southern Africa (HASA), European Helicopter Association (EHA), Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC), Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), and Association for Promotion of Helicopter Industry, Japan (AHIJ). HAI is talking to additional helicopter associations that have expressed interest in participation, Martino says.
“The IPP paid dividends for our industry during HAI’s Virtual Aerial Firefighting Conference last November,” Martino says. “Because the conference was all virtual, there were considerable opportunities for more international participation among both presenters and attendees, and we were able to include international content as a direct result of our collaboration through the IPP.” In addition to other conference sessions with an international focus, IPP member Loreto Moraga, president of ACHHEL, presented on aerial firefighting operations and issues in Chile and across South America, and Ray Cronin, president of AHIA, spoke on best practices that support international collaboration during firefighting activities.
In addition to discussing local, regional, and global issues, IPP members also build personal connections. Since the group’s formation, several members have either received support from fellow members on specific issues or provided support of their own.
“Here in the UK, I’ve been in close contact with the European Helicopter Association for many years,” explains BHA CEO Tim Fauchon. “Through that connection, I’m able to stay well versed on issues between Europe and Britain. However, the IPP has connected me with even more contacts around the world in Japan, Australia, and India. This group has really helped the BHA to expand our international partnerships.”
BHA Mobilizes UK Industry for COVID Support
Formed during the COVID pandemic, the IPP has already begun delivering on its mission to increase collaboration, due in part to the extreme circumstances facing the industry around the world. In Britain, Fauchon created a database and system enhancing the civil helicopter industry’s ability to support the UK government during the pandemic. Through the IPP, he’s been able to share this work and inspire others.
When the COVID pandemic began in the first quarter of 2020, Fauchon began investigating how to mobilize the UK helicopter industry to support that country’s National Health Service. Great Britain already had a military aid to civil authority program, whereby military assets could be mobilized to support civilian efforts in times of need (much like US National Guard troops and assets are mobilized in times of US emergencies). Fauchon dug into his military background and contacts and pulled together a team of ex-military and civilian operators to create a helicopter assistance to civil authorities (HACA) program.
Fauchon worked with representatives from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Transportation Ministry, and a UK government cabinet office to develop a program that made civil helicopters available for government agency use during the pandemic. A credit card payment system was set up through the British government’s procurement agency, Crown Commercial Services (CCS), with an initial budget of £1.5 million. Any government agency in Great Britain could apply for the credit card to pay for civilian helicopter services used as part of that country’s COVID response.
Fauchon then went about building a database of commercial air operator certificate (AOC) operators (much like FAA Part 135) and other “flyers” and support services willing to participate.
“While we started the database with our members, we knew we had a big industry and opened it to everyone,” Fauchon says. “It didn’t take long before we had an enormous database with everything from helicopter operators to fuel services, offices, and hangars available if needed.”
Fauchon then hit a wall of red tape. The agencies calling Fauchon needed aircraft quickly, and applying for the CCS credit card took time. Without the credit card to ensure immediate payment, bills for helicopter services went into the government payment system, where it could take as long as three months to receive payment. After hours of calls and waiting on hold, Fauchon was able to find government employees who could use purchase orders to reduce the payment time to two months, and he’s working to shorten that to two weeks.
Since its beginning, Fauchon’s HACA program has provided a number of services for the UK government, from transfers of medical staff and equipment between facilities to helping with moorland firefighting when local fire crews were limited by COVID restrictions. It stands ready to support vaccine distribution as well. With the majority of the United Kingdom well served by roads and rail, the need for helicopters is limited to more-rural areas. Yet, when a helicopter is needed, Fauchon says his HACA program ensures that one is ready within two hours.
ACHHEL Supports Chilean Vaccine Distribution
Fauchon shared with fellow IPP members his efforts to increase utilization of the British helicopter industry in the UK COVID response. His experiences helped Chile’s Moraga prepare the Chilean helicopter industry to support vaccine distribution.
In January 2021, Chile’s hospitals in rural areas began to reach capacity. More helicopter transports were required to get patients to larger hospitals with intensive care services. At the same time, the country began to ramp up vaccine delivery. Since late 2020, military and law enforcement aircraft were used to help deliver the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to citizens in outlying areas. Chile now has agreements with four vaccine makers and recently opened vaccination to all citizens over 60 years of age in an effort to beat the potential autumn wave of infections that could come as soon as March.
A long, thin country with considerable rural and mountainous terrain, Chile required creative support to meet its aggressive vaccine schedule. The Chilean Aerial Federation (FEDACH), a civilian general aviation organization, had begun working with the Chilean government, much as BHA’s Fauchon had. However, realizing that it needed to reach many areas with little or no aviation infrastructure, FEDACH soon reached out to Moraga and ACHHEL to manage helicopter support.
“As more vaccines arrived, FEDACH began working with the government to see how civilian operators can help,” Moraga says. “Yet they need helicopters to deliver directly to hospitals and other rural areas that are not near airports. Their helicopter members are private pilots. We were able to help with our commercial operators.”
ACHHEL began the helicopter vaccine delivery program with a few donated flights to gather data on timing, routes, and procedures, including the safe transportation of the super-cold vaccine using dry ice, a hazardous material. In consultation with Chilean health authorities, ACHHEL is currently transporting vaccines only with cold gel.
HAI’s Martino shared the FAA’s vaccine transportation regulations with Moraga, and Fauchon shared the CAA’s template procedures. This information will help Moraga contribute to and support Chile’s civil aviation regulator, the Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil (DGAC), in its development of regulations for that country.
The first Chilean helicopter flight transporting COVID vaccines took place Jan. 25, from Santiago to Quillota, a 30-minute flight. Servicios Aéreos Suma Air donated the helicopter, and Airbus supplied a pilot. The helicopter carrying a case of 85 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines was greeted by a cheering crowd lined up for their shots.
ACHHEL participated in a larger transport on Feb. 4, where an Airbus AS350 helicopter donated by Ecocopter and flown by a company pilot transported 25 Pfizer second-dose vaccines for medical personnel from the Municipal de Vitacura Airport (SCLC), north of Santiago, to a soccer field next to the Buin hospital, 45 km away and south of the congested city, saving an hour of drive time for the temperature-sensitive vaccines.
“These were very successful flights, and the people were very excited to see the helicopter arrive with the vaccines,” Moraga says.
“The information that I received through the IPP was a valuable part of the planning. We received a lot of information from associations around the world before we did the flights, and we shared that information with our volunteer operators. We were able to develop protocols based on those used in other countries to ensure strong safety measures,” says Moraga. “As we do more flights, we’ll look at having conversations with aviation, transportation, and health authorities to develop a program where the government will be able to work directly with ACHHEL’s operators to deliver vaccines to remote areas.”
Sharing information and best practices that promote the effective use of helicopters around the world is exactly why the IPP exists, says HAI’s Viola. “As shown by the collaboration on COVID vaccine transport, the relationships built through the IPP have already demonstrated their value, and we’re just getting started. We want to hear from more organizations that would like to use the IPP to collaborate on these types of initiatives.”