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Twelve Minutes to Tranquillity

Story by Sarah Bowen, Photos by Simon Browne

Page: 2/2

The Old and the New
Helisureste (officially Helicopteros Del Sureste, S.A.) was established in 1983 and its Agusta Bell authorised maintenance centre was the first in Spain to become JAR 145 approved in accordance with the JAA (Joint Aviation Authorities) and the Spanish Civil Aviation Authority. Its large operating base in Spain, located near the Alicante coast, incorporates two hangars of 5,200 square metres, another 20,000 square metres of landing and parking space and a 980 metre landing strip. Its fleet of 60 helicopters (which increases to 75 in summer) includes Bell 205, 206, 206 L-3/L-4, 212, and 412; Agusta 109 A/C and 109-E Power and Kamov KA-21 heavy-lift helicopters. The company's current annual turnover of 55 million (Euro) is almost 3 times what it was ten years ago.

Since the company was founded its aircraft have performed a wide variety of aerial work and high-tech operations; public transport, fire fighting, fisheries surveillance, air ambulance and civil rescue, aerial filming and TV broadcast, goods and mail transport, external cargo lifting, off-shore services and pilot training. According to Helisureste's Area Manager in Gozo, Mr Noel Grech, as at December 2003 the company's fleet had logged over 65,000 flight hours. Helisureste has been a pioneer in the use of helicopters for forest fire prevention in Spain and has served as a model for the rest of the autonomous regions where more than 50,000 flight hours have since been flown for this purpose during which more than 100 million litres of water have been released over fires.
Comino's Blue Lagoon
The company has long-term clients requiring year-round forest fire prevention (although demand for this service is greater in summer) and has seven helicopters dedicated to the role, but during the 2003 season it had a total of 43 helicopters operating throughout the nation.

In 1986 Helisureste began the first medical helicopter service in Spain to be run by a private company on behalf of a public entity (Provincial Council of Alicante). Since then the number of its helicopters used for Civil Protection and Medical Transport has gradually increased and has led to Helisureste becoming the largest operator of medical helicopters in Spain. Its EMS helicopters are equipped with airborne Intensive Care Units that enable accident victims and critically ill patients to receive rapid and effective medical attention. This fleet of medical helicopters is on call 365 days a year, requiring considerable contributions by the company in manpower and material resources.

In another display of its enterprising spirit, in 1996, Helisureste launched the first regular helicopter passenger service linking the city of Ceuta with Jerez de la Frontera and Malaga airports; more than 1,000 passengers a month now use the service connecting Ceuta and Malaga International Airport. In July 1998 it placed one of its Bell 212s in southern Portugal to carry out civil protection services, making it the first Spanish aerial company in the sector to be contracted by an outside government, but since then, Helisureste has operated regular EMS and civil protection services for the Portuguese Government.

En-route to Gozo
The company's international operations regularly require flights to such faraway countries as Senegal (transport of authorities during the last presidential elections) and Slovakia (film shoot), as well as those closer to home such as Algeria (inspection of gas pipelines), Morocco (film shoots) and France (public passenger transport).

It was on 27 March 2005, that Spanish company Helisureste took over the Malta-Gozo helicopter service previously run by MAC (Malta Air Charter - a subsidiary of Air Malta). Helisureste carried 500 passengers in its first month of Malta-Gozo operation, and Grech, is confident that by 2006 around 40,000 passengers annually will be using the new service; Helisureste currently operates up to nine return flights daily between the main island of Malta and Gozo, using an Agusta Bell 412EP in place of the two Russian built 26-seater Mi-8 helicopters previously used by MAC. (MAC's Mi-8s, though they had served that company well, could not be used after Malta became an EU member in 2004 as they did not comply with JAR OPS 3 specifications).

The Agusta Bell 412EP helicopter was chosen for its reliability, low maintenance, high performance and passenger comfort. The 412 has a maximum gross weight of 11,900lb (5,398kg), a maximum cruise speed of 122 kts (226 km/h) and a maximum range of 356 nm (659 km). The aircraft is flown by two crews from Spain, who work 15 days on and 15 days off. According to Grech, a second machine may be brought from Spain if demand over summer increases as predicted. Since it began operating in Malta, the helicopter has also been used for photography and sightseeing, and regularly undertakes charters.

Back at Luqa Airport, Malta
Future plans for development of the Malta-Gozo service include the possibility of adding other aircraft to ferry tourists from Luqa Airport to other destinations within reasonable range such as Sicily or North Africa. Helisureste will be operating in Malta for at least the next 18 months and hopefully long afterwards. "Because we took over this operation at short notice, and during the winter season, it was difficult to establish links with tour operators," Grech remarked. Most of these companies had sold their package holidays in advance they had already arranged transfers from Malta by boat. We are, however, quite confident that in summer these operators will start to use our service and we can start to work our schedule around the charter flight times. This will help the tour operators to establish a seamless link for their holiday-makers.

The ferry terminal is almost an hour's drive from the airport and the last thing passengers will want after a long flight will be to wait around for a boat, especially as many charter flights arrive in Malta during the night! This fact alone highlights the significance of having an efficient helicopter service between Malta and Gozo.

So far Gozo has managed to escape being swallowed up by the technology and sophistication that is rapidly taking over the rest of the world. While locals are very welcoming of the indispensable service Helisureste provides, they believe the island will remain a tranquil and secluded paradise for years to come - state-of-the-art heliport notwithstanding!

Special thanks to:

Noel Grech, Manager for Helisureste, Gozo
Salvador Carrazoni Garcia, Helicopter Pilot
Rafael P?rez, Helicopter Pilot
Ned Dawson, Heli Ops Magazine

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Published on: 2005-11-28 (4588 reads)

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