In our June/July issue, we celebrate bizav with a visit to Sunwest Aviation in Calgary. We also profile Flightdeck Solutions, discuss northern aviation priorities, and remember the Dash 7. Plus: RCAF retention challenges.
For nearly 40 years, Helitrades has been providing structural repairs, field maintenance, and dynamic and hydraulic component overhauls for its loyal customer base of helicopter owners and operators. Over this time, it has built a reputation for delivering its services on time and with care, with an average lead time of just one to three weeks.
The company was established in 1979, and today has a staff of 19, with facilities in Vankleek Hill, Ontario; Alliston, Ontario; and Airdrie, Alberta. “We do a lot of hydraulic repair and overhauls,” said Gerald Tom, Helitrades’ president/owner. “We’re a Bell service center, and we also do overhauls on transmissions for [Bell aircraft].”
Helitrades focuses primarily on servicing Bell models, but the company’s Vankleek Hill and Alliston facilities have recently become Robinson Helicopter authorized service centers for R22 and R44 aircraft.
The company’s Vankleek Hill location is a Bell-approved customer service facility for component overhauls on the Bell 205, 206, 206L, 212, 407 and 412. This location also offers field maintenance on the Bell 412. Focusing on specific types of aircraft allows the company’s technicians to hone the quality of their work, said Tom.
Established with a commitment to service at the forefront, Helitrades has been passed down through generations of the Tom family with that commitment intact. “My father was in the helicopter industry, and he had started the company in 1979,” said Tom. “I finished school in ’87 and joined [the company], and then in ’95 I became a partner, and my parents retired.” When Tom took over, he hoped to grow the reliable business his father had spent 16 years building. Since then, Helitrades has continued to thrive.
The company provides repairs and overhauls for aircraft belonging to the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian Coast Guard, and other commercial and government operators in various parts of the world. Although it’s a modest-sized company, Helitrades has completed work on dynamic and hydraulic components for 85 Canadian Armed Forces aircraft over the last 19 years, as a primary vendor through Bell Helicopter Textron Canada. Alongside this, the company provides transmission overhauls at its Airdrie location for Bell 412s operated by the Department of National Defence (DND).
With its facilities located solely in Canada, it’s no surprise that the majority of Helitrades’ business comes from Canadian helicopter operators. And with Bell establishing its Canadian franchise in 1986, there are now roughly 4,900 Bell aircraft manufactured in Canada — and roughly 1,000 Bell helicopters operating in the county — creating an abundance of service opportunities.
A small percentage of Helitrades’ business comes from customers in the United States who are looking for specialized helicopter services to be completed on budget — which is even more achievable with the Canadian dollar being quite low against U.S. currency. “The reason we don’t get as many [customers] from the United States is because they seem to be pretty loyal to going to [facilities] that are already down there,” explained Tom. “But that may change in the future.”
Helitrades’ extensive capabilities have also resulted in the company expanding to provide services for various oil companies in the Middle East that use helicopters for their operations. Tom said the company supplies spare parts for Bell aircraft to these companies, and it often receives aircraft components from overseas customers that require hydraulic repairs.
The majority of Helitrades’ services consist of hydraulic component overhauls for aircraft. With several Bell helicopter models featuring hydraulic components manufactured by Woodward HRT, Inc., Helitrades decided to become a Woodward HRT-approved facility, making it one of only a few companies that have the ability to perform maintenance and overhauls on these particular components. “There are only two of us in North America, so we get quite a bit of volume because of that,” said Tom. The company will see HRT hydraulic components from Bell 204, 205, 206, 206L, 212, 407, 412 and 427 aircraft go through its facilities.
Three years ago, Tom and the company decided they wanted to offer more than component overhaul services to their customers, and purchased Uscan Aviation Sales — a sales, overhaul and major repair facility in Alliston that also specializes in Bell helicopters.
“We wanted to expand our Bell capabilities further, and [Uscan] seemed to be the best way to go,” explained Tom. “It was cost-effective to buy the equipment used rather than buying new.”
The move allowed the company to carry out structural repairs for Bell aircraft, including main cabin and tailboom structural repairs for Bell 205, 206 series, 212, 407 and 412 helicopters. Uscan is now rebranded under the Helitrades name, and its Alliston facility focuses mainly on field maintenance for Bell models, as well as services for the R44 and R66; Helitrades’ structural repair services have been relocated to its Vankleek Hill location.
Though it focuses mainly on helicopter components, Helitrades will sometimes see entire aircraft go through its facilities. At the beginning of the year, the company received a request from the government of Maine to perform a structural repair on a Bell 206, which was completed in February. Having the appropriate structural repair approvals from Bell made Helitrades the right candidate for the job. Tom said the low Canadian dollar is also an added bonus for helicopter operators in the U.S. who are looking for the types of services Helitrades offers.
For its Canadian customers, the company does its best to offer cost-effective services with quality results. “Being a small owner-operated business, we can be more flexible on pricing than larger companies,” said Tom. “Quality is always first, but next [to that], very close, is pricing.” For Helitrades, these are the two key factors it has found its customers value the most.
For the last 39 years, Helitrades has stuck with what it knows best: Bell helicopters. And its employees have become specialists on the OEM’s rotorcraft. However, broadening the scope of aircraft the company performs maintenance on isn’t entirely out of the question; if an opportunity to expand presents itself, it would be a plausible option, Tom said.
Helitrades is gearing up for its 40-year anniversary in 2019 – a remarkable milestone for any business. When Skies asked Tom what he believes is the secret to success, he replied, “Quality… quality is the main thing, and always coming through on what we promise to do.”