Long-established business aviation operator Gama Aviation is making its first move into the UK helicopter market with the launch of a fleet of three Airbus H145s. Two of the three aircraft are being permanently fitted out for EMS work, and will be put to work on the Scottish Ambulance Service contract from 1st June 2020 – one at each of Glasgow and Inverness Airports.
The third helicopter, while providing maintenance cover for the other two, will also be the vanguard for potential expansion into other roles including windfarm support and VVIP work. It has been painted in the corporate Gama grey with red accents.
From inception, Gama have been the primary contractor on the Scottish Ambulance Service contract, which has included two fixed wing aircraft and two helicopters. Gama have operated the fixed wing element themselves throughout with Beech 200s (currently using the B200C model), and subcontracted the helicopter operation to Bond Air Services, which later morphed into the current operator Babcock MCS Onshore. Gama are taking over the helicopter operation with three years remaining on the Scottish contract.
The Airbus H145 was a simple choice for Gama to make, as the Scottish contract requires this specific type. The H145 is already the second most popular EMS helicopter in the UK and by the summer the UK EMS fleet will number 13. The most popular is the EC135 with 18 involved in medial flights.
HeliHub was shown round one of the H145s by Andrew Lister, Gama’s Head of Rotary. Each H145 is fitted with an Aerolite air medical interior, a Trakka searchlight and an array of six belly-mounted LED lights, particularly useful for off-airfield locations. The avionics suite includes two Garmin 750s as well as the usual three MFDs.
Externally the helicopters have the longer skids to facilitate the fitment of floats if required, although the vast majority of any over-water operations are well within the “10 minutes flight of land” limitation beyond which floats are required. The expectation is that they would not see much use in EMS work.
The helicopters also have a provision for a hoist to be mounted to starboard, and there are no current plans to install such equipment. The cost of installing hoist provisions from the production line is minimal, but a retrospective fitment would be prohibitively expensive. Gama tells us that they have no current intentions of changing the four-blade head to five-blade when that option becomes available.
Gama has not invested in three new helicopters with just the Scottish contract in mind. Mark Gascoigne, MD Europe Air at Gama, told HeliHub that the company is talking to “three or four” other air ambulance operations, and it is clear that they will be bidding on future air ambulance contracts in the UK. Gascoigne would not rule out bidding on other work, and particularly cited wind-farm support as an area of interest. Perhaps that is why they chose the provision for a hoist?
Considering other potential uses, Gama are also looking at the HNWI (High Net Worth Individuals) market. They already operate corporate jets for a a notable number of these customers, so it is an easy extension of that work to add helicopters for these owners. That said, the operator does not have any plans to fit the third aircraft with a VVIP interior as it needs to retain the flexibility for other roles.
From a paperwork point of view, Gama are putting helicopter operations into their current fixed-wing AOC and not starting up a new one specifically for rotary-wing operations. They expect this variation to be approved in the next two or three weeks. A maintenance facility for the three H145s has been set up at Glasgow Airport where they currently have two hangars. A new hangar is being built at Inverness Airport for completion in May/June time frame.
The helicopters have been funded through a bank facility with HSBC.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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