Airbus Helicopters, November 09, 2016 - Air Zermatt is the first operator to fly an H130 configured for aerial work. Since its delivery in April 2015, the company’s H130 has criss-crossed the Swiss Alps, performing a range of services in all seasons, from heli-skiing, sightseeing and air taxi, to mountain rescue and aerial work missions.
With no time to lose, Air Zermatt’s H130 helicopter finishes its morning schedule and prepares for its next mission as an “aerial bricklayer”. Time is of the essence, because its afternoon has already been reserved for tourism flights.
The team at Air Zermatt, a multi-mission helicopter operator based at the foot of Switzerland’s internationally renowned Matterhorn ski resort since 1968, is working on a large and complex building site to construct the world's highest triple-cable gondola lift. When completed, the lift will transport some 2,000 passengers per hour to the summit of Klein Matterhorn.
Air Zermatt is the first operator to fly an H130 configured for aerial work. Since its delivery in April 2015, the company’s H130 has repeatedly criss-crossed the Swiss Alps, performing a range of services for local Zermatt residents and vacationers in all seasons, from heli-skiing, sightseeing and air taxi, to mountain rescue and aerial work missions such as the ski lift construction project.
Air Zermatt’s team readies the H130 for its aerial work mission by removing the seats from the helicopter’s flat floor. “We take advantage of this feature to improve the helicopter’s performance for construction site missions. Removing the seats lightens the takeoff weight, allowing us to carry heavier loads of construction materials,” says Gerold Biner, CEO and pilot at Air Zermatt. “This detail is an improvement for a helicopter and makes our job that little bit easier.”
Once airborne, the pilot relies heavily on the helicopter’s new, long sling that can carry up to 1,500 kg on its hook. “Because of the many obstacles around the construction site on the steep mountain, the pilot is forced to use slings at least 260 feet long (60 meters)," says Biner.
An exterior rear-view mirror helps the pilot to execute more precise maneuvers. The mirror system is stationary. It is used to check and control the load.
“We are working with the helicopter at 11,000 feet elevation carrying loads with the sling in very difficult conditions. The winds are variable, clouds can accumulate very quickly,” says Biner.
An advanced version of the EC130 B4, the H130 is equipped with the latest equipment in terms of safety improvements, such as a crash-resistant fuel tank system and energy-absorbing seats for all passengers. “The new crashworthy fuel tank system is one of the best improvements to pilots' safety these past few years,” explains Biner.
The H130 is also equipped with a Turbomeca Arriel 2D motor that gives it increased power and lower fuel consumption – key requirements for heavy lifting. Another of the helicopter’s improvements is a vibration control system that reduces pilot fatigue and makes all passengers “feel as if they are riding in a VIP bus", Biner adds.
Once the construction work has been completed for the day, the team easily reinstalls the seats before the next mission.
Seats in place, the H130 spends the afternoon offering a bird’s eye view of the Alps to groups of tourists. At the end of one such scenic flight, the H130 takes a few-minutes’ break. While the technicians check the helicopter, the tourists pose with their pilot in front of the “beautiful red bird,” as nicknamed by French vacationer Lucas, aged 10, who already dreams of becoming a pilot.
The H130 is highly suited for scenic flights and is regularly used to carry tourists on 30-minute trips around the mountains of the Zermatt region. Its ability to accommodate up to seven passengers in a single-pilot configuration make it a reference for tourism flights worldwide.
The helicopter’s large cabin has wide windows and a clear windscreen, providing exceptional visibility, while the Fenestron® shrouded tail rotor improves safety for passengers and ground personnel and contributes to the H130’s very low external sound level.
“Flight comfort is outstanding. The cabin and luggage compartment are large, and the air conditioning system is a big help on hot days,” explains Biner.
Biner says there is one flight that remains more popular than others: the summit of the Matterhorn, a unique landscape which involves hovering over glaciers. Revolving around the summit in silence is truly a time for contemplation. "This flight is definitely my greatest gift of recent years,” says one passenger.
Challenging flight conditions, especially during SAR missions
Air Zermatt’s H130 has logged 500 flight hours for transport missions since its entry into service in June 2015. Still, even with regular training, the pilots are sometimes confronted with dangerous situations specific to the mountains and high altitudes.
Biner says maneuvers can sometimes be complicated for a pilot, depending on the weather but also on geographic conditions, such as when flying close to cables or rocky faces. To overcome such difficulties, reduce accident risk and increase safety for a flight crew, the H130 is equipped with a cable cutter device (WSPS) mounted on the roof and on the lower part of the helicopter nose.
Strong winds are also a significant challenge for the pilots. "To deal with these conditions, you have to be able to manage major changes in power and therefore have a fast engine response,” he says. “Technical knowledge and pilot experience are essential for flying at high altitudes.”
High altitudes and winds are often challenges seen during Search and Rescue (SAR) missions, which the H130 is also well equipped to perform. "Between 3 and 5 minutes is all we need to turn the H130 from a sightseeing or VIP configuration into an emergency medical services or SAR layout," explains Biner. The company provides year-round rescue service and can perform up to 24 rescues per day with its entire fleet of helicopters, often in the mountains.
Biner says the H130 has been a welcome, versatile addition to the company’s fleet, which includes one H135, five H125s and a Lama, allowing them to take on new types of missions especially in the fields of aerial work and SAR.