Island helicopter will get Russian piggyback ride to Chile

A Russian-built heavy-transport aircraft arrives in Victoria today to pick up a VIH Aviation Group firefighting helicopter and carry it to Chile.

The Ilyushin Il-76 long-range aircraft was chartered after initial plans did not work out to fly VIH’s helicopter to Chile, Didier Moinier, VIH senior vice-president of international business development, said Monday.

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The widespread U.S. government shutdown meant the company was unable to receive permission to fly south of the border. The helicopter would have stopped in the U.S. on its planned 10 to 13 day journey to Chile.

Instead, the Chilean government is hiring the 46.6-metre long cargo plane, owned by a Ukrainian company, to collect the helicopter at Victoria International Airport for a much faster delivery.

The plane will not be stopping in the U.S. Rather, plans call for it to be loaded with the helicopter on Wednesday and arrive in Santiago, Chile, on Friday. A direct flight is planned, with a possible stop in Panama, Moinier said.

VIH crews have started dismantling the Kamov Ka-32A11BC, one of four helicopters owned by the company, he said. Each weighs about 20,000 pounds. A rear ramp will open to allow the helicopter to be loaded onto the plane.

The helicopter is being hired by Chile’s ministry of agriculture to help battle serious wildfires in that country.

After arriving in Santiago, the helicopter will be reassembled. Two pilots and two mechanics are travelling with the helicopter. Crews will be rotated about every three weeks or so, Moinier said.

The helicopter will initially go into service about 100 kilometres south of Santiago, he said.

It is expected the helicopter will be in Chile for about three months, Moinier said.

Also built in Russia, the Kamov helicopter is able to lift heavy loads. Long lines and huge buckets are being delivered to Chile as well. It is capable of scooping up 5,000 litres of water at a time.

Chile contacted VIH after seeing the company’s aircraft at work in that country for the past couple of years on construction jobs. “We have fought fires on a casual basis” as well, Moinier said.

The VIH Aviation Group was founded in 1955 by Ted Hensen and Bill Boeing Jr., a Seattle-based aircraft dealer and son of the founder of Boeing Aircraft. VIH is Canada’s oldest privately held helicopter company, beginning with one Bell 47G2 helicopter on Vancouver Island. It is based on Victoria airport land.

The company and its fleet of helicopters do search and rescue, air ambulance, aerial construction, and mining exploration. It also runs a helicopter repair and overhaul centre and a fixed-wing corporate jet charter business.

International work is not new to VIH. Countries it has worked in include Camaroon, Peru, Brazil, Guyana and China.

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