Charity buys two Bo105s for rat eradication on remote island

Charity buys two Bo105s for rat eradication on remote island

2-Dec-2010 Source: HeliHub.com

South Georgia is a remote island of approximately 1,500 square miles, located in the South Atlantic some 900 miles east of the Falkland Islands. The only population there are transient scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, varying between 30 in the summer season down to 15 in the winter, and a handful of officials who visit from their full-time base on the Falklands. That said, there is a massive population of brown rats, totalling well into the millions – and it is these rodents that bring two helicopters into the equation. The rats were likely introduced to the island by whaling ships in years past, but need eradicating as their consumption of flora and many millions of seabird eggs and chicks is destroying an important habitat. Several species of bird, including the South Georgia pintail and the Cape petrel, are now under threat, while the island’s only songbird, the pipit, faces extinction. The South Georgia Heritage Trust, a charity based in Scotland UK, are putting an end to this situation with a five year program to drop poisonous pellets from helicopters – the largest invasive eradication ever attempted wordwide.

The helicopters will use an underslung spreader, coupled to GPS avionics to ensure complete coverage. The target is one pellet per 10 square metres, calculated as the optimum for complete eradication of the rats – and 100% eradication is required, 99.9% not being sufficient as the rats could repopulate to the current level within a few years. The geology of the island helps, with the rats not able to survive above a certain altitude or in the centrally located glaciated area.

The weather must be considered at all times in a harsh environment like the South Atlantic. The winter months are both windier and generally between freezing point and -10C. The summer period is warmer, although rarely above 8C, and there are some days when the wind abates. The work required on this project could be flown in two straight weeks if the weather held out and every day was fully flyable, but it would be most unusual for that to happen in one stretch. The South Georgia Heritage Trust estimates approx 150 flying hours required per season per helicopter, within a weather window of 10 weeks a year.

When the Trust priced up the helicopter options, two aspects became clear. Firstly that twin engine operations were essential due to the weather and terrain, and to keep the price low, an older-generation type was chosen – the rugged Bo105. Secondly, the cost and logisitics of getting the two helicopters to and from South Georgia meant that leasing them for each of five consecutive years was more expensive than buying the helicopters outright and storing them locally for 10 months a year.

The key time of the year for this operation is mid February to mid April – after the breeding season of most birds and before the first heavy snowfalls of winter – and the Trust will hire two freelance pilots and one engineer to support the project during this period for each of the years 2011 through 2015.

South Georgia Heritage Trust has purchased two high-time Bo105s from Bond Air Services in the UK, these being currently registered as G-BATC and G-TVAM, together with a spares package. CAA data shows these airframes to have 20,574 and 13,766 hours respectively at 31st December 2009, and they are currently being converted from past roles as air ambulances at Bond’s facility at Gloucestershire Airport. Bond are selling them to the Trust with a parts guarantee on each airframe of 1,000 flying hours, and there is a resale value for the 105s at the end of the project around April 2015. HeliHub.com does not expect that this will realise a particularly large amount, particularly bearing in mind the harsh environment they will have worked and been stored in for five years, the airframe hours on each, and of course the transportation cost in moving them away from South Georgia. We think it feasible that the passage of time and the state of the helicopters may render them unsaleable and this remote South Atlantic island could well be their last resting place.

The pair of Bo105s will be transported from the UK to the Falklands on a British military ship. They will then be put on a cruise ship for the trip to South Georgia, courtesy of a generous donation from polar cruise organisers One Ocean Expeditions, who have a ship with a hangar capable of taking two helicopters.

An article in the Times newspaper of 7th March 2010 indicated that the whole project is valued at around £6 million, while the Scottish Charity Register publically presents the charity’s income as £553,357 in the latest available accounts – the year to 5 April 2009. With the previous two year’s income showing as £493,008 and £424,233, it is clear that their fundraising efforts have to step up a major gear to meet the commitment this helicopter project brings with it. Charity Chairman Alison Neil told HeliHub.com that the organisation’s Trustees fully supported the project, but was unable to name any specific sponsor behind it.

Further reading
South Georgia Heritage Trust website
Article in the Independent newspaper on the project, dated March 2010
Article in the Times newspaper on the project, dated March 2010
One Ocean Expeditions
Scottish Charity Register page for South Georgia Heritage Trust

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