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Friday, October 1, 2004

Latin America Notebook: Brazil's First Helicopter Expedition

By Claudio Agostini, Latin America Bureau Chief

Brazil's 3.3 million sq. mi. territory includes six different main eco-regions, most of them well known, such as the Amazon Forest in the northwest and the Atlantic Forest following the Brazilian coastline.

An area less well known is the Cerrados woodland savannas, a 0.8 million sq. mi. area in Central Brazil. However,this is changing, primarily because of the huge agribusiness development, such as soybean plantations and cattle.

Now it is also becoming noted for a helicopter event that took place last July, driven by experienced businessman and professional helicopter pilot. Cmdr. Sebasti�o (Tim) Abreu, owner of Moreto Helicopters located in Goiania city. For two years, Abreu has supported one of the most famous, and stressful, auto rallies in Latin America, the Rally dos Sertes, a 2,500 mi. rally running from Goinia in Central Brazil to Fortaleza in the northeast. Now he has decided to run his own adventure enterprise: a helicopter expedition covering 2,500 mi. over the most exotic and untouched part of Central Brazil--the Cerrados region.

Rotor & Wing discussed the helicopter expedition with Abreu to find out why.

"The first Brazil Helicopter Expedition was an eight-day ecological heli-expedition performed by executives and entrepreneurs who decided to fly their own helicopters or rent one to fly in a totally different environment and flight conditions than they were use to," Abreu said. "The second day of the expedition coincides with the Rally dos Sert�es departure, providing an amazing interactive competitive feeling." The expedition was also aimed at promoting the natural preservation of the area and supporting the local people still living in Indian villages.

The expedition took eight days and covered 10 cities, three of them Goiania, Aruana and Palmas, coinciding with the Rallye dos Sert�es circuit. The daily flying range was roughly 300-350 miles with scheduled stopovers on natural sites and local Indians villages. Reception and parties at these villages were also included in the program. "Local Indians handcrafted the prizes for participants," Abreu said.

The expedition involved 37 people in eight helicopters, including a Robinson 44 plus seven Eurocopter helicopters--an EC 130 and six locally produced Esquilo (Ecuerill) AS 350 variations: AS 350 BA, B2 and B3. "All helicopters performed very well during the expedition with only two minor occurrences solved on the spot," he said. The "minor occurrences" included a battery failure in one aircraft and an engine fire alarm in another. "The fire alarm during the solo startup was the result of some water dropped on a sensor during the aircraft wash the night before."

FBO Flight Support local company provided the navigation and flight planning services, with Global Star Satellite mobile phones used for communications. "For ground support, we had 10 people, five technicians and five assistants, with two fully equipped pick-ups and two fuel trucks. One Piper Seneca III aircraft followed the helicopters with additional equipments and an on-board technician," Abreu said.

Support for this first-ever helicopter expedition into the Cerrados region came from sponsors such as EADS/Eurocopter and Turbomeca, which "assured the quality and professionalism of the event since the beginning. On the institutional side, along with the local media coverage, we had full support from Brazil's Minister of Tourism that invited the team to land at the ministerial gardens (Esplanada dos Minist�rios) in Brasilia for a special reception. This may assure some governmental action pro-eco helicopter activities and some support for our next edition," he said.

Abreu said that they plan to release a book and DVD about the first expedition by January. "For the second edition, we already have a prereservation of roughly 20 helicopter owners and some strong additional potential sponsors. This new expedition may have an extended flying circuit through the Andes region to Chile and returning by the Patagonian region in the south of the continent. These expeditions will be unforgettable opportunities to experience the preserved natural wonders in this part of the world, in a way that only a helicopter can provide, to interact with local people and to get the insight to preserve this nature for future generations," Abreu said.

Along with ecotourism, another promising niche market opportunity for helicopters in Brazil within the next 5 to 10 years is the agribusiness helicopter market, based on the country's huge agribusiness expansion and optimistic forecasts for many years ahead.

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