“This helicopter is a gift from heaven”
Matthias Reuter is responsible for the expansion of the Mercy Air Switzerland helicopter fleet. In this interview he reports about an all around successful purchase.
Matthias, what does the purchase of a second helicopter mean to you personally?
“There is great joy amongst our team. In my mind I can already picture how this second machine is going to reach people in need living in remote areas with additional aid flights. Again and again we had to deny requests for outreach flights because of our limited capacity with only one helicopter.“
Why did Mercy Air buy a used helicopter in the USA?
“The availability of used A-Stars is much greater in the USA than on the European market. The company Air Methods alone operates about 50 machines of this type as rescue helicopters.
Our partner organization MMS (Missionary Maintenance Service Aviation) generously supports us in many ways: We were privileged to use their maintenance facilities including the paint booth and special tooling any time and free of charge. This was essential in order to get the necessary modifications done on our helicopter so that the machine will be ready for the demanding needs of aid operations in the African bush environment. Our second helicopter will be ready for service shortly.“
What are the effects of the collaboration with these partner organizations for the future?
“We have been able to build relationships with key people. This will help us for the future for additional technical support for both our helicopters. On top of that we will be able to make use of the opportunity to let our pilot and mechanic candidates gain valuable experience.“
When do you think the second helicopter will be ready for aid flights in Africa?
“We are making the last push and are hoping to get the machine shipped by the end of February. It is rainy season in southern Africa and in some areas people have already lost their homes and crops due to the floods. We are trying everything in our power to get the helicopter on its way to Africa.“
What kind of effect will the second helicopter have on the future flight program?
“We'll be able to nearly double our outreach capacity. Practically this means that people in need in our outreach areas will get better support and we'll be able to expand our area of service. Villages which up to now have not been reached can be visited and more people will experience that someone cares about their needs, and that way new hope will be spread.“
What is still necessary in order to keep two helicopters in the air long term?
“The hangar facilities on the Mercy Air base have been expanded so there is already room to hangar our second helicopter. What we certainly are in need of are new donors who support Mercy Air on a regular bases. This is necessary in order to keep our aircraft flying and serving people in need. I am confident because everyone involved is highly motivated and shows great initiative. That is so encouraging. This positive collaboration with our local partners along with a clear focus produces meaningful services to those in need.“
Mercy Air's second helicopter
In past years Mercy Air had to turn down many relief flight requests because of a lack of capacity. Thanks to a second helicopter, more relief flights will be taking place in southern Africa.
Experienced flight operations
Since 1991 Mercy Air has been flying to people in need - regardless of origin, gender and religion. Each year about 1000 aid flights are being flown. The combination of airplanes and helicopters for relief and supply flights as well as evacuations offers great flexibility.
Again and again the Christian humanitarian flying service is confronted with new flight requests. Especially the need for helicopter flights is greatly surpassing the capacity. For that reason Mercy Air Switzerland has decided to buy a second helicopter.
Common helicopter type
Mercy Air chose the second helicopter of the same type, an Astar AS350-B2. This single engine multipurpose helicopter offers room for 6 passengers, besides the pilot, and aid material. Thanks to its powerful turbine engine this machine has an excellent performance. External loads of about one ton can be transported.
The cabin with its flexible interior is easily converted to meet different flight requests.
The unity of fleet greatly reduces cost in acquiring spare parts and special tools as well as in training pilots and mechanics.
Helicopter acquisition in the US
Mercy Air Switzerland had located an ideal helicopter in Pittsburgh PA. Air Methods is an air ambulance service provider which operates a fleet of around 400 planes and helicopters. As a result of valuable connections in the helicopter industry, Mercy Air's leadership received word about that helicopter for sale. After negotiations an excellent price was agreed upon for that used helicopter.
Experiencing generous support
During the course of all negotiations Air Methods was very cooperative, always very helpful and generous. “We are excited about Mercy Air's work in Africa and are happy to help in any way we can,” was the chief engineer's statement.
After the short ferry flight from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Coshocton, Ohio, the Mercy Air crew found open hangar doors as well as much goodwill and technical support from MMS Aviation (Missionary Maintenance Services Aviation). At the moment the “new” Mercy Air helicopter is being reconfigured and mission specific equipment is being installed. Our crew consisting of Matthias Reuter (pilot and mechanic), Michi Aebi and Dan Gabler (mechanics) are busy working on the machine that now also boasts the same orange and white Mercy Air livery. Several skilled and highly motivated MMS staff members have kindly put in time and effort to get all the modifications done.
“N220CF” is nearing completion and will soon be shipped to South Africa in order to serve in Mercy Air missions with its primary outreach focus being Mozambique.