Heli A1 is a family owned and operated helicopter company based in Otorohanga, New Zealand. The company offers a broad range of agricultural, commercial and tourist helicopter services from 10 minute scenic flights to air transfers, surveys and precision lifting. One day staff might be spraying fertiliser or helping a power company string power lines. Another day could mean lowering a worker in a human sling to apply bait for pest reduction or even assisting with firefighting or back burning.
But safety is critical every day for Heli A1 pilots and crew, who are specialists in highly technical and difficult tasks. All staff are committed to safety as the first consideration in everything they do.
Heli A1 has a rigorous internal and external auditing system to ensure compliance with all aviation industry standards, and is audited by a number of private, public and government owned companies annually.
The company also strives to remain at the forefront of its industry, with an innovative approach and the development of new standards within the helicopter industry.
One area of innovation ahead of its competitors is the use of two-way radios. While other companies are still using hand signals or even just waiting for the helicopter to wind down to communicate, Heli A1 staff use MOTOTRBO digital two-way radios coupled with heavy duty Motorola XBT wireless headsets.
Pilots and ground crew all use the radios and headsets for seamless communication between the air and ground. Using this equipment, the pilot can ask questions on approach to the loading area if required, notify the crew that he or she will refuel on the next trip, or pass on a new prescription for chemicals for the client. In return, ground crew can warn when a heavier load is to be expected, tell the pilot to hover if they should not land for some reason or warn of potential hazards.
Alex Mudford, pilot and business manager, explains the benefits of the equipment: Better safety: In deploying the radios and headsets 12 years ago, “the safety factor was one of the biggest reasons. It’s a fast paced environment and headsets allow everyone to be constantly in the loop and aware of what’s going on. There are times when the pilot is doing quick runs of only six minutes, taking loads back and forth, and constantly dropping and lifting stuff with the helicopter. Not everything flies the same, and sometimes there are things the crewmen need to pass on to the pilot about the load. For example, if you were unable to strap the load the recommended way – causing a risk that the load will fly oddly – you can tell the pilot while he is in the air. If there was no headset you would have to point, so we’d struggle to do the job without them.”
“Also, if there is no line of sight between helicopter and ground crew, the crew can still talk to them. And they can find out where they are if the helicopter takes too long to come back.”
Greater efficiency: The alternative is the use of hand signals only, or radios without headsets, but the addition of headsets means that ground crews can cooperate when the helicopters are close, and crews can communicate with each other and the pilots more efficiently.
“This saves time because we don’t have to use hand signals, where you usually have to explain everything again anyway after landing because the pilot still has a question.”
Cost savings: Helicopters are expensive to run, making the application of chemicals or fertiliser a costly exercise. When the crew can pass a message to the pilot via radio, this means a quicker operation that is more cost-effective for the customer. This is not the case where the crew verbally explains something to the pilot, who has to wind the engine down and open the door in order to hear. Using this equipment saves time, which means cost savings for the customer and the business.
Better durability: The equipment is standing up to the impact of a tough job. “These headsets are quite heavy duty and we haven’t had the issues of previous ones. They are also really good with fertiliser use. We’ve had lots of problems with corrosion before, which we’re not having with these headsets.”
The gear “gets dropped, hit and works in the rain” but there haven’t been any issues, says Mudford.
Hearing protection: Other companies require that their employees wear ear muffs to protect their hearing, which become cumbersome when these employees also use handheld radios. Workers need to remove the ear muffs to use the radio, a practice that does not support good hearing protection.
Heli A1’s headsets use SENS technology, which combines advanced speech enhancement with extreme noise suppression. So ground crew can still hear instructions perfectly well over noisy helicopters, while protecting their hearing.
The relationship with Heli A1’s partner in the deployment of the equipment continues to go well. Mudford reports the Richardson Communications team is “really good and knowledgeable. They know their stuff, recommend the right things and we’ve had no issues with the headsets. The team is also very quick at responding. Once we had to fly out on Saturday for an overseas job and realised on Friday night that we didn’t have enough radios, but Richardson delivered them to us on time.”
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