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Thu, Jan 05, 2012

Columbia Helicopters Finds Ways To Grow

Maintenance Contracts Part Of Success Through Recession

The helicopter industry in general has weathered the recession better than the fixed-wing side, in part because of continued military spending. But Columbia Helicopters, based in Aurora, OR, has also found new ways to make money, and reports growth and a boost in employment as a result.

“Our pursuit of commercial, and military helicopter maintenance and operational contracts in new areas has resulted in our ability to grow and hire more people,” says company President Michael Fahey. “At the same time, we are continually developing new contracts with our global petroleum and logging customers."

Columbia Helicopters owns, operates, and maintains the largest private fleet of heavy-lift helicopters in the world, consisting of seven Columbia Model 234 Chinooks, and 14 Columbia 107-II, twin engine, tandem-rotor aircraft. Capable of carrying loads in excess of 26,000 pounds, the Columbia Model 234 Chinook has one of the largest lifting capacities of any commercial helicopter. The Columbia 107-II helicopter has a capacity of approximately 10,000 pounds. “Some of our Chinooks are operating in Peru and Papua New Guinea, where global petroleum customers use those aircraft to move heavy equipment, and support exploration operations in remote jungles,” Fahey notes.

Columbia Helicopters reports hiring is up 12 percent over this time a year ago, with nearly 200 jobs added since the end of 2009. That includes 40 highly skilled men and women hired for the company's maintenance operation since the beginning of 2011. Columbia now has nearly 700 employees in its global operations, with over 200 more employed by international subsidiaries or affiliated support organizations.

According to Fahey, recent growth was largely fueled by the entry into the military operations market for the first time, with the deployment of five heavy-lift helicopters and support personnel to Afghanistan on December 1, 2011. Under a multimillion dollar contract with the United States Transportation Command, Columbia Helicopters will operate from various locations throughout Afghanistan in a non-tactical, logistics support role; ferrying mail, personnel and supplies.

“The Afghanistan mission is a perfect fit for the skill levels and expertise we have built up over our 55-year history, and our understanding is that we are making a difference,” said Fahey. “The military has repeatedly expressed great appreciation of our operational tempo, high level of availability, and the flexibility of our crews to perform our missions in a timely, and very professional manner.”

In order to meet the demands of its growing global military helicopter maintenance business, the company is now routinely sending crews outside the US in order to assist customers with routine maintenance. Currently, Columbia’s crews are working for military organizations in Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Spain and other locations. The company, in fact, has opened a maintenance operation facility in Australia. Additionally, maintenance crews have been dispatched to Afghanistan to work on deployed foreign military aircraft.

In addition to the military, Columbia has historically worked with a number of commercial customers, and has seen significant growth in maintenance for both groups, particularly with those using helicopters similar to the Columbia fleet.

To further enhance its maintenance and repair capabilities, the company broke ground last summer on a new, $4 million engine test facility at its Aurora base, slated to be fully operational later this year. Capable of running the T55-714 engine, which powers military CH-47 super heavy-lift helicopters around the world, the test cell has been designed to accommodate future versions of that engine, as well as other engine product lines.

“We are obviously pleased with our growth,” Fahey said. “While we have grown conservatively, and do not expect our business model to change, our Board of Directors and management team will explore all opportunities when they present themselves, and I am confident that we will continue to grow in the future.”



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