British powerline patrol operator WPD Helicopter Unit is expanding its EC135P1 fleet from two to four aircraft. The third EC135 arrived Thursday 21st June at Oxford Airport for the fitment of high-intensity strobe lights by Eurocopter UK, and was still carrying it's German registration D-HKUG, serial 0090. It will shortly be re-registered in the UK as G-WPDC and be based at Bristol's Lulsgate Airport.
Following in July will be the fourth example, serialled 0071 and previously D-HSOS, which will become G-WPDD. All four have been bought from the German air ambulance operator ADAC, which is in the process of upgrading to newer models. All four will continue to fly in ADAC's yellow colours, which give higher conspicuity in poor conditions than the red scheme WPD previously used.
In an interview with WPD's Chief Pilot Eric Proctor, HeliHub.com learned that the acquisition of these two aircraft will lead to WPD becoming a dedicated EC135 operator. Prior to the first EC135s arriving around the end of 2011, WPD had previously flown three Bell 206 JetRangers and two AS355F1 Twin Squirrels. The oldest JetRanger G-BARP had flown with them since 1980, but was a 1973 manufactured aircraft with over 18,000 hours on the airframe - and has been sold for spares. The two JetRanger 3s, 1981-build G-MFMF with over 16,000 hours and the much newer G-ZAPH with less than 3,000 hours are both at various stages of the sales process. Both of the Twin Squirrels have been sold to an aerial filming operator in the UK.
The move to the EC135 was brought about by a combination of factors around corporate responsibility and risk assessment. To hover an AS355 close to a powerline tower for 30-45 seconds for the high-definition photography work WPD routinely undertake required the location to be assessed first and a suitable landing spot being closely available in case of engine failure. That requirement disappears with the single-engine power performance on the EC135P1, which also brings with it greater capacity for people and equipment when they need to respond to power outages.
WPD Helicopter Unit is a long-standing operator dedicated to powerline patrol and the emergency response aspects associated with maintaining the powerline network in all weather conditions. They trace their history back to 1963 when operations started with an Agusta-Bell 47J. Previously known as the SWEB Helicopter Unit, the name change came about when South Western Electricity Board was sold to the American company PPL - Pennsylvania Power and Light. WPD fly approximately 2,400 hours per year.
Jeremy Parkin - HeliHub.com
Photo credit: Keith Wilson
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