The Australian government has been contracting for Erickson Air-Crane helicopters during their down-under fire seasons since ”Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. They seem to have a special fondness for the ships which can carry 2,650 gallons of water, especially since the 2001-2002 bushfire season when ”Georgia Peach” (N154AC) and “Incredible Hulk” (N164AC), were rushed out from the U.S.A on board a Russian Antonov An-124 air freighter to assist with bushfires near Sydney, working with “Elvis” which was already “in the building”.
Their fire season this year has caught the Aussies by surprise, starting in New South Wales weeks earlier than usual — before the contract for the Sky-Cranes begins. While at least two Air-Cranes had already been shipped to the country from Greece by air freighter, not all of the flight crews had arrived when dozens of very large bush fires broke out that so far have burned about 200 homes and caused the death of one person. There is a bit of a controversy going on with some residents not able to understand why the huge helicopters can’t be used to fight fires without a flight crew.
Paul Filmer took some excellent photos of aircraft working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park, Colorado, December 4, 2012. The photo above is the first one I can remember seeing of an air tanker dropping with snow in the background.
We thank Paul for allowing us to use his photos. You can see a couple of dozen more that photos he took December 4 at his web site. More information about the Fern Lake Fire can be found at Wildfire Today.
Erickson Air-Crane has bought back an Air-Crane helicopter that it sold two years ago to a power company in California. In 2010 Erickson sold a $30 million S-64F Air-Crane to San Diego Gas and Electric which acquired it to facilitate the construction of a powerline in eastern San Diego County. The company also made it available for fighting wildfires, using the call sign Helicopter 729 when operating on a fire, and “Sunbird” when working on the powerline. The Air-Crane can carry 2,650 gallons of water when suppressing a fire.
In conjunction with the aircraft transaction, Erickson entered into an agreement with SDG&E to provide an Air-Crane for fire suppression support in San Diego County this Fall. SDG&E leased the aircraft for a 3-month period from September through November 2012, with an option to renew the lease for the same period each year through 2016.
Erickson added the aircraft to its fleet which now expands to 18 Air-Cranes. The company said it will allow the Company to meet the growing demand for heavy-lift aerial services in the oil-and-gas and powerline construction sectors.
Erickson Air-Crane went public April 11, 20121, selling stock at an initial public offering. Listed as EAC on NASDAC, it sold for about $8 that day, which netted $32 million for the company, about half of what they hoped for a few months earlier. The company used the proceeds to help pay down their debt which as of December 31, 2011 was $130.6 million. Since the IPO the stock price has ranged from $5.35 to $8.50 and closed at $8.03 Friday.
In 2007, ZM Private Equity Fund bought the company, and in 2009 moved the headquarters to Portland. ZM retained 63 percent ownership after it went public with the sale of stock.
At the beginning of the bushfire season in Australia, Peter Ryan, the Deputy Premier of Victoria, held a press conference to announce that “Elvis is back in the building”. The Premier was referring to an Erickson Air-Crane, a Type 1 helicopter which can carry 2,650 gallons of water. The Australians have a special fondness for the Air-Cranes, and especially for the one named “Elvis”, which is credited for helping to protect almost 300 homes near Sydney in 2001 and also for helping save the lives of 14 firefighters in the Burragorang Valley in New South Wales.
In addition to “Elvis” (N179AC), Victoria’s Country Fire Authority has contracted for a second Air-Crane, “Gypsy Lady” (N189AC).
Through contracts with various state and territory governments in Australia, Air-Cranes and Skycranes have been helping the Australians during their fire seasons since “Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. One of the more notable missions was the 2001-2002 bushfire season when “Georgia Peach” (N154AC) and “Incredible Hulk” (N164AC), were rushed out from the U.S.A on board a Russian Antonov An-124 air freighter to assist with bushfires near Sydney, working with “Elvis” which was already “in the building”.
Type 1 (High Volume) rotary wing firebombing services
Type 1, 2, and 3 rotary wing services
Type 4 fixed wing firebombing services
A number of other specialist aircraft services, including intelligence gathering
A small number of conventional light fixed wing aircraft services for reconnaissance
Very Large airtankers
Type 1 and 2 multi-engine airtankers
Scooping or self-filling fixed-wing aircraft
Proposals to supply data integration services for AFAMS – the national aircraft tracking and event logging system
The request for proposals for very large air tankers is a little surprising after their experiment during the 2009-2010 fire season. After that trial the Aussies were not entirely pleased with the overall performance of a DC-10, however most of the problems were a result of insufficient skill on the part of the crew, rather than the aircraft — for example dropping far too low or completely missing a target. The first pilots who flew the DC-10 very large air tankers had little or no previous experience flying air tankers when that program began. In the last two to three years they have gained a quite a bit more experience flying low and slow over mountainous terrain and have a good reputation in the United States. The two DC-10s have proven to be a reliable and valuable aviation asset.
Erickson Air-Crane, a company in Portland, Oregon, that builds, operates, and sells Erickson S-64 heavy-lift helicopters, intends to purchase Air Amazonia, a subsidiary of HRT Participacoes, a company in Brazil, along with their 14 helicopters.
Erickson’s Air-Cranes are used extensively in fighting wildland fires. At least 15 Air-Cranes or Ch-54 helicopters were on contract with the U.S. Forest Service in 2012. The company has been sending some of the ships to Australia since 1998 to fight fires there during the down-under summer, which of course is winter in the United States. During the 2011-2012 summer there, Erickson had three of them in Australia — aircraft named Elvis, Elsie, and Marty.
“It plays well to our unique capabilities,”Udo Rieder [Erickson’s president and chief executive officer] said during a conference call with analysts on Wednesday.
He said the deal for 14 medium and light helicopters will significantly increase Erickson’s capability in South American markets, adding revenue and making good use of the company’s capital.
“It will reduce the impact of the seasonality of our business and expand our footprint in the gas and oil industry,” Rieder said.
HRT owns seven Sikorsky-61 aircraft, which are smaller but have many similarities to Erickson’s current fleet.
“We’ve always talked about adding medium-lift capability to our operation,” Rieder said. “It’s complementary to our business. The S-61s are little sisters to the air-cranes. Many of the parts are similar and some are identical — the cockpits are the same. This would give us quite a bit more capability at our Central Point facility. This will provide a platform to bring in S-64s and exchange equipment fairly quickly in Brazil and Peru.”
He said the company is unsure of what it will do with the Bell 212s and Eurocopter AS-350s that are part of the deal.
“We have the option to move them anywhere we want near-term,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what the demand is, but we’ll pretty much absorb all the aircraft there.”
The deal, however, isn’t expected to close until the second half of 2013, Rieder said, because of “fairly complex regulatory requirements and licensing matters.”
Below is a portion of the text from an announcement by Erickson:
Erickson Air-Crane Inc. Announces Letter of Intent to Acquire Brazilian Oil and Gas Aerial Services Business
Plans Purchase of Air Logistics Business from HRT Participaes em Petroleo, S.A.
Early Stage Transaction Announcement, Closing Expected in Second Half 2013
14 Aircraft Fleet to Position Company as a Leading Air Services Provider in Brazil
PORTLAND, Ore. — (BUSINESS WIRE) — Nov. 6, 2012 — Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated (NASDAQ: EAC) (Erickson Air-Crane or the Company), a leading operator and the manufacturer of the powerful heavy-lift helicopter, the Erickson S-64 Aircrane, today announced that it had entered into a non-binding letter of intent to acquire 14 helicopters and associated personnel and assets from HRT Participacoes em Petroleo, S.A. (HRT).
The letter of intent is non-binding and, for the acquisition to be completed, requires that EAC provide operational services to HRT in the Amazon, including both cargo and passenger transport, through a three-year, renewable contract.
Udo Rieder, Chief Executive Officer of Erickson Air-Crane, commented, We are very pleased to have identified what we believe is a strong future partner. Were confident that this acquisition can be an excellent path to diversification and growth. Brazil is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing industrial markets in the world and we are uniquely suited to provide our expertise and leverage the full capabilities of this fleet and our investment.
About Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated
Erickson Air-Crane specializes in the operation and manufacture of the Erickson S-64 Aircrane (the Aircrane), a versatile and powerful heavy-lift helicopter. The Aircrane has a lift capacity of up to 25,000 pounds and is the only commercial aircraft built specifically as a flying crane without a fuselage for internal loads. The Aircrane is also the only commercial heavy-lift helicopter with a rear load-facing cockpit, combining an unobstructed view and complete aircraft control for precision lift and load placement capabilities. Erickson Air-Crane owns and operates a fleet of 18 Aircranes, which are used to support a wide variety of government and commercial customers worldwide across a broad range of aerial services, including firefighting, timber harvesting, infrastructure construction, and crewing. Erickson Air-Crane also manufactures Aircranes and related components for sale to government and commercial customers and provides aftermarket support and maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for the Aircrane and other aircraft. Founded in 1971, Erickson Air-Crane is headquartered in Portland, Oregon with its principal manufacturing facility based in Central Point, Oregon. For more information, please visit http://www.ericksonaircrane.com.