HAI International Tuesday: Blackcomb Helicopters - Canada

Paul Smith Top Story

Blackcomb Helicopters (BH) has been operating since 1989 and was founded in Whistler, British Columbia, where the company has very deep roots. The McLean family has been in Whistler since 1967, and John Morris was the Whistler base manager for Okanagan Helicopters when they operated from the parking lot at Creekside in the early 1980s. BH shares a passion for the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, and the rugged mountain environment has become part of the company’s aviation DNA.

BH’s head office is in Whistler, with other locations in Squamish, Lillocet, Sechelt, Pemberton, and Vancouver. While the company has grown to some 20 helicopters and 60 aviation professionals at six main bases, working all over western Canada, its connection to place and purpose has not changed. BH is a team of aviation professionals who are passionate about providing remote mountain access and a variety of aviation and related services to their customers. Their Sea-to-Sky base network supports tourism, search and rescue (SAR), heli-skiing, and heli-biking, as well as mobilizing for work outside company home areas such as utility, mining, film, and firefighting.

As part of the McLean Group, BH is able to take advantage of group management talent (finance, HR, legal, communications) and common customers such as film productions (Vancouver Film Studios) and remote communications companies (Signal Systems). Like other McLean Group companies, BH puts a high priority on giving back through community engagement and charitable activities. BH actively supports its staff getting involved in community service, and its charitable committee (Blackcomb Helicopters Employee Endowment) is very active.

Training

For much of what BH does, company pilots need specialized skills and significant experience. Their maintenance operation and safety systems are designed to support a high level of technical expertise and complex operational capabilities. Over 50% of the company’s work requires a formal prequalification process of some kind, such as a custom safety audit. BH is heavily invested in specialized work methods (hydro, SAR) and innovative equipment and technology (bike racks, communications systems).

Twelve BH pilots have attended Robert Feerst’s Flying in the Wire Environment Course, originally facilitated in BC by Blackcomb Helicopters, which cohosted the inaugural course with BC Hydro. Feerst is president of Utilities/Aviation Specialists, a consulting firm specializing in wire-strike avoidance research for Transport Canada and the FAA.

Missions

BH is built on the concept of the multimission helicopter. This means that its aircraft, at any time, can be rapidly reconfigured from one mission to another. This multimission flexibility has allowed BH to rapidly respond to more than 1,000 rescues and medevacs in Whistler alone, along with many wildfire responses in the Whistler area.

During its 30 years of operation, BH has developed a close working relationship with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler Fire Department, Whistler SAR, and BC Forestry Service (BCFS) to provide a multitude of emergency service work, including firefighting and emergency response.

During high or extreme fire-danger ratings, the BCFS - Coastal Fire Center will hire BH or another local operator on short-term contracts to fulfill the need for rapid response. BH understands the threat that a passing lightning storm can present to the community. Therefore, it is essential to have aircraft ready for dispatch and equipped for firefighting, should the need arise.

The company’s most recent success story was the fire on Million Dollar Ridge on Whistler Mountain in 2016, where it dispatched within five minutes after receiving the call from Whistler Blackcomb for firefighting support. The fire was successfully doused by multiple AS350 aircraft.

BH also provides a variety of general services to the forestry sector, including:

  • Bear and fish surveys
  • Heli-logging
  • Wildlife management
  • Environmental surveys
  • Air calling inventory
  • Timber cruising.

Film Projects

BH has more than 30 years of experience providing support to film projects ranging from Hollywood feature films to small-budget projects. The company understands the challenges of film production and are ready to support film projects in every way, including:
Camera helicopter (experienced and credited camera pilots)
Picture helicopter (experienced pilots with stunt and picture helicopter credits)
Transport helicopter (extensive mountain, remote location, and long-line flight experience)
Staging, fuel, WiFi, and support from any of BH’s six strategically located bases in SW British Columbia.

Carbon Neutral

BH has measured the greenhouse gases emitted during each hour of flight from all of their helicopters operating in all varieties of work (utility, tourism, wildfire, film, rescue, etc.). The company mitigates the emissions from its flights by purchasing the equivalent amount of carbon offsets, where the money will go to fund green projects.

BH chose to offset with Offsetters, Canada’s leading carbon management company. Their offset projects are validated and verified by third parties to ensure that the emission reductions are real, additional, and permanent.

Fleet

  • Bell 206B Jet Ranger and L-4
  • Bell 212 HP/BLR
  • Bell 407
  • Eurocopter AS350 B2, B3e, B3DH
  • Eurocopter AS355 N
  • Eurocopter EC130 B4
  • Eurocopter EC135 T2+

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