HeliService USA targets growing offshore wind market with AW169s

Three AW169s operated by HeliService USA have become the first helicopters dedicated to the offshore wind market to enter service anywhere in the United States.

The northeastern seaboard of the United States is the focal point for the nation’s fledgling offshore wind (OSW) industry. It is also home to HeliService USA, which created its own small slice of history in June 2023 by launching the country’s first helicopter operation dedicated to serving OSW customers.

HeliService USA won its first two long-term OSW contracts in 2022 and has wasted no time in establishing a strong presence in the market. Within three months of starting commercial operations in June with a fleet of three AW169 light-intermediate twin helicopters, it had already transported more than 2,500 passengers to offshore installations, completed around 600 flights and recorded 400 flight hours, as well as more than 100 hoist cycles.

The rapid ramp up in the company’s operations reflects the growing demand for safe, efficient transport from OSW developers in support of wind farm projects clustered off the coast around Rhode Island and Long Island. The move also mirrors the start of a new era of clean energy production in the United States.

Dynamic operations

Mike Tosi is CEO and Founder of HeliService USA. He says the company supports all major offshore wind companies and that it is focused on two key areas of activity – providing essential crew transfers and conducting helicopter hoist operations, both of which are fundamental to the successful expansion of the OSW sector.

“Our fleet is deployed firstly to support the construction phase of these major projects and then for the ongoing operations and maintenance side, for example where there is a problem and technicians need to be on scene quickly to fix the issue. It’s a very dynamic and complex operation – we always need to be ready to fly because our customers cannot afford any downtime in their operations. Any delay can cost very substantial sums of money.”

Tosi also explains that demand for support from the OSW sector is four times higher than HeliService USA anticipated in 2022 as customers have seen the safety and efficiency benefits of transferring personnel via helicopter rather than the traditional Crew Transfer Vessels.

A demanding operating environment

The northeastern United States is attractive to OSW developers because it has a high percentage of the population living in coastal communities and the region’s exposed coastline regularly experiences the high windspeeds that make OSW a viable proposition.

Tosi explains: “The weather can be very challenging in this part of the world. New England weather is unpredictable. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a day!

“Erratic weather also poses a challenge in terms of planning – for us it means maintaining a high degree of flexibility.”

Why the AW169?

The trio of AW169s operated by HeliService have all been acquired under long-term leasing arrangements with LCI and operate from HeliService USA’s two bases, currently at Martha’s Vineyard Airport in Massachusetts and Quonset State Airport in Rhode Island.

Why did the company select the AW169? “It is basically the only helicopter that can successfully fulfil the mission. We needed the ability to transport six to eight passengers in safety and comfort and to operate in challenging sea states. What really differentiates the helicopter though is its single-engine performance for hoist operations.

“The helicopters are fabulous and our partnership with Leonardo Helicopters is important on several levels because for us it’s not just about the helicopters themselves. We are contracted to be available all the time, so access to parts and support is a vital aspect for our operations.”

Although HeliService USA is a relatively young business, it can call on the 30 years-plus of expertise of HeliService International, the world’s largest offshore wind helicopter operator. It holds a branding and technical support agreement with the Germany-based company, which has an extensive fleet operating in the North and Baltic Seas in support of OSW operations.

“I wouldn’t describe us as having a start-up mentality,” says Tosi, “because at the end of the day we are delivering a service that is driven by safety. But we’re pretty responsive and we’re proud to have a culture that is based on great camaraderie – we have a terrific team of people.”

Proud to be veteran-owned and operated

The culture that Tosi describes is notable in that the company has a significant proportion of its team drawn from the veterans community. “We’re very proud of the fact that almost our entire maintenance staff are veterans and 50% of our pilots too. There’s no question that it creates a sense of togetherness – everyone who joins us wants to grow in their role and they all work hard.”

Tosi highlights the fact that the company does not employ a single pilot or technician with less than 15 years’ experience. “That know-how is crucial because we’re learning every day. I describe it as being a bit like building the engine while it’s running. This is a new industry in the United States. There is very little offshore infrastructure in place along the northeast coast, so it’s really being built from scratch.”

Tosi’s own backstory is a fascinating one. He studied business and marketing before joining the US Air Force and flying as a helicopter pilot on Combat Search and Rescue missions. He still retains a connection with the USAF as a part-time Guardsman and Reservist.

He says that the lessons in leadership from his military service – as well as familiarity with hoist operations – have been invaluable. Before founding HeliService USA, Tosi ran a small charter tour business with a fleet of three aircraft for several years and later took a role flying single-pilot Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) missions with Boston MedFlight.

Potential expansion into HEMS/SAR

As well as expanding its offshore wind support activities, HeliService USA is also looking at expanding into HEMS/SAR operations, not least because there is no commercial SAR service currently in place for offshore wind operations in the northeast.

“If you look at all the major OSW markets from the North Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, they all have commercial SAR as an extra safeguard for operations. There is no official regulatory requirement, but we believe strongly that it’s the right thing to do. For us, it’s a matter of when, not if.”

Tosi says the company has already acquired a complete EMS kit for the AW169s and co-ordinated and performed landings at Rhode Island Hospital. The team has also conducted trial hoists, including direct swimmer deployment to the water to test SAR capability.

While HeliService USA’s fleet is currently focused on the AW169, Tosi says the company could also consider adding the larger AW139 to its OSW operations, specifically to support crew transfer missions, where its larger cabin size would be beneficial.


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