HI Uplift: Heli-One boss plans for growth despite supply chain challenges


Colin Smith, new head of Growth and Strategy at vertical aviation maintenance firm Heli-One, loves helicopters. It’s a passion forged in the left-hand seat of US Navy training helicopters, such as the TH-57 Sea Ranger, and in the right-hand seat of submarine hunters, such as the SH-60 Seahawk. His 30-year experience of aerospace and defence, including time as military maintenance officer and business development director for firms like Bell Helicopter and Hendsoldt, will stand him in good stead for his latest role.

After starting the role at Heli-One – a wholly-owned subsidiary of CHC Helicopter – in August, his new job enables him to integrate all aspects of his aviation career. “This includes everything from being a pilot with the end-user perspective, a maintenance officer knowing the requirements for managing aircraft maintenance and the importance of fleet management, working for an OEM to understanding the production and lifecycle management,” Smith tells Helicopter Investor.

“Plus working for a supplier and seeing the supply chain perspective together with working in business development, sales and strategy gaining an in-depth understanding of meeting customer needs and how to strategically compete in a marketplace.” It will be useful experience in helping Smith manage growth while mitigating supply chain difficulties.

Claiming to be the world’s largest independent helicopter support company, specialising in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), Heli-One has a global network of more than 600 employees with three maintenance facilities in Poland, Canada and Norway, eight Customer Support Offices and a distribution hub. The business has about 350 helicopter operator customers, across military, government and civil sectors.

 So, which sectors of the industry show the biggest potential? Our key growth opportunity lies in the expansion further into North America from our Canadian base and into Europe, Africa and the Middle East from our Norway and Poland bases, as well as utilisation of CHC Helicopter’s bases in Australia, Brazil, USA and Europe,” says Smith. These strategic bases will support growth in the civil and military market plus expanded helicopter airframe business.

Heli-One reports growth potential across all its market segments. “The energy market recovery has been significant and we are also witnessing increased demand from tourism, utility services and the military. This is the largest sector by MRO revenue and is a large portion of our customer business and capability to support,” Smith tells us.

As one of Europe’s biggest AS332 governmental helicopter operators, the German Bundespolizei works extensively with the Heli-One Sola team in Norway, on everything from standard airframe maintenance, component and engine repair and overhaul to major design and modification programmes.

Clients include the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Swedish Armed Forces. Heli-One has worked on the return-to-service of the EC225 Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters in both Greenland and Iceland and the various support of Finnish Border Guard AS332s.

Heli-One is currently contracted by Leonardo to support the Norwegian fleet of AW101 SAR Queen helicopters increasing the amount of trained personnel available to support the new Norwegian All Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter (NAWSARH) fleet.

Like all maintenance companies Heli-One is spending a lot of time managing supply chain issues. “Increased demand has led to two major trends. First, there has been a significant increase in lead times across all our OEM partners – typically moving from three-six months to six-12 months,” says Smith. “Second, there has also been an increase in turnaround time for components – driven by supply chain constraints affecting parts, as well as labour and skills shortages.”

He says Heli-One aims for maximum repair, re-use and recycling of components, without compromising safety. Within CHC Helicopter’s flying operations, the company has an end-of-life programme. All serviceable components are recovered from older helicopters for re-use. If components are not serviceable, materials are recovered for recycling. Recent examples include the S92 and H225 models. The business also encourages customers to secure long-term deals to ensure they can retain the lift in an increasingly competitive market.

In a bid to mitigate supply chain challenges Heli-One is investing in training its workforce. “We are identifying and training the workforce of tomorrow – our apprenticeship scheme continues to be hugely successful and we are actively integrating new young talent into the business.”

Before we finish, Smith is keen to emphasise a key theme of his professional life: safety. “As a global leader in helicopter support services, safety is at the forefront of what Heli-One does,” he says. “From industry-leading maintenance practices, advanced safety training programme and a corporate culture focused on safety, the workforce is always up-to-date on the latest measures available to ensure a safe working environment.” Heli-One’s Integrated Safety Management System (SMS) is the foundation of the business and applies to everyone, regardless of their department or role, he says.

Smith’s experience is not lost on Heli-One president Miguel Carrasco. “The $42 billion maintenance services and MRO helicopter market is expanding and demand for support services is growing rapidly,” said Carrasco commenting on Smith’s appointment. “Colin’s wealth of industry, aviation and military experience will be invaluable as we respond to increased demand and work closely with our customers to support their continued success. We are delighted to welcome Colin onboard.”

(Pictured is Smith serving as officer in charge of a helicopter detachment operating onboard a US frigate supporting training exercises in Southeast Asia with a coalition of partner nations).

Meanwhile, after flying both military and civil rotorcraft, fixed wing jets and prop planes, Smith retains his passion for helicopters – even though he has relinquished regular flying: Within the past few years, I have flown some light single engine fixed wing aircraft with friends. And while I was at Bell, I had the opportunity go on occasional demonstration helicopter flights with customers. I have enjoyed most controlling flight in all six degrees of freedom, which you get from flying helicopters.”

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