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Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Heavy Lift

John Croft

Unique Capabilities, Low Demand

UNPLANNED AND ON-CALL ACTIVITIES have become essential for survival in the heavy-lift business.

Jon Lazzaretti, Columbia Helicopters, Inc.'s marketing vice president, said firefighting can't be depended upon, but is increasingly important for revenue. Helicopters played a larger role than usual in firefighting last year with the fixed-wing fleet grounded, but heavy rainfall meant fewer fires and less work. The alternative--aerial logging to thin forests and deprive fires of fuel--is stifled by environmentalists' challenges to such work. Lazzaretti said logging represents an "enormous growth potential."

Frank Carson, president/owner of Perkasie, Pa.-based Carson Helicopters, sees little growth for construction work this year. "Only so many buildings are being built." Competition from ground-based cranes is stiff and FAA paperwork demands can slow helicopter work on a job. Construction work this year will be sustained by Detroit's automobile industry, which is expanding or upgrading facilities. When that happens, Carson said, "they have to put more equipment on the roof." He expects heavy-lift work on transmission lines and pipelines will remain as it is today--sporadic.

A positive footnote is the S-61 composite rotor blades Carson spent 13 years designing and building. Certificated by the FAA last year, Carson said, the $1.15-million, five-bladed main rotor, built by DuCommun, Inc., boosts payload 2,000 lb., cruise speed 15 kt. and range 60 nm, to 460 nm. It also doubles rotor life--from 10,000 to 20,000 hr. The rotor system, said Carson, "takes this old helicopter and brings its performance in line with other helicopters being produced today." Carson is marketing the rotor to 500 or so military and commercial S-61 operators around the globe.

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