The Northern Lighthouse Board's (NLB) experience with helicopter support has revolved around a Eurocopter Bo105 for many years. With the current contract expiring on 30th November, they took the opportunity to revisit what helicopter type was used.
A feasibility study was undertaken prior to the tendering exercise to establish what type of helicopter was needed to meet their future requirements, noting that the helicopter has to:-
* Fit on NLB and other General Lighthouse Authority vessels with a D value of aircraft needed to be less than 12.5 M
* Suitable for over-water operations and therefore twin engined
* Be equipped to Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) standard (ideally to a Single-Pilot IFR standard) capability (but will not necessarily be flown IFR)
* Have a minimum seating capacity for four passengers.
* Have the ability to routinely to carry mixed loads of passengers (min 2) and internal cargo.
* Have a cargo area, preferably accessible from the rear through doors,
* Be able to take off, land on, lift and deposit underslung loads, and to be secured to the deck of the NLB vessel.
The NLB evaluation of the options open to them led to a firm decision to move from the Bo105 to a new generation helicopter for "technical, operational and safety reasons".
The second stage for NLB led to the currently-contracted Bond Air Services being selected, along with the EC135 as the helicopter type Bond had included in their bid. The new contract starts next week on 1st December 2010 for five years (plus optional extensions), and while it allows for as many flying hours as required, the expecation is set at 800 flying hours per year.
The EC135 will serve on average between 100 and 150 sites a year depending on operational requirements for lighthouse planned/breakdown maintenance visits, and capital improvement/refurbishment projects. Bond have chosen a low-hour 2004-build ex-corporate airframe for this contract, serial 0341 and now registered G-CGPI as shown in the photo [Click here for full size photo - credit: Graeme Lovell]
The NLB is the General Lighthouse Authority for the waters surrounding Scotland and the Isle of Man, and is responsible for the superintendence and management of all lights, buoys and beacons within this area. The majority of these aids to navigation are provided by harbour authorities and other local bodies under the supervision of NLB. However, most of the significant lighthouses and other aids to navigation outside harbour limits are provided directly by NLB.
This area covers half the waters and coastline of the United Kingdom, together with the majority of offshore manned oil installations. The area is subject to severe weather conditions for many months of the year. The approximate length of this coastline is 6,214 miles (10,000km) a land area of 30,405sq miles (77,700 sq km) and 790 islands. The Board currently operates: 208 Lighthouses, 165 Buoys, 34 Beacons, 4 Differential Global Positioning System Stations, 27 Racons and 1 eLoran Station (jointly with partner GLAs).
The NLB is funded entirely from the General Lighthouse Fund, sourced by "Light Dues", a levy paid by shipping. No direct funding is received from the UK government or taxpayers. For more information on the Northern Lighthouse Board visit www.nlb.org.uk
Somewhat coincidentally, the equivalent organisation for England and Wales, Trinity House, has also gone through an airframe evaluation and operator tendering exercise and HeliHub.com will cover this in a separate article in the near future.
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