Erickson enacts pay cuts and furloughs for some employees

Their Air-Cranes have been shipped from Australia to Greece for the northern hemisphere wildfire season

Erickson loads Air-Crane helicopters Australia Greece
Erickson loads Air-Crane helicopters to be shipped from Australia to Greece. Erickson photo, April, 2020. Erickson photo.

Erickson Incorporated, operator of large firefighting helicopters, is cutting the pay and requiring furloughs for some of their employees. The Digital Marketing Manager for the company, Christina Kalman, describes it as temporary:

Consistent with peers in our industry, Erickson is taking precautionary measures on a short-term and temporary basis to protect against additional future impacts and the unexpected costs caused by the global pandemic. As part of this effort, a portion of our employees, including the CEO and all members of the management team, will participate in a temporary pay reduction or short-term furlough program in May and June.

Erickson manufactures, owns, and operates large Type 1 Air-Crane helicopters that are used around the world for firefighting and construction. In April after the bushfire season ended in Australia they loaded approximately half a dozen of them onto a ship for a weeks-long voyage to Greece for the northern hemisphere fire season, arriving May 4. The company now has six Air-Cranes in Greece, Ms. Kalman said.

Erickson loads Air-Crane helicopters Australia Greece map
The map shows the location of the Sider Jasmine carrying Air-Crane helicopters on April 20, 2020, at about the halfway point on its voyage from Australia to Greece. Erickson image.

A person might assume that companies involved in aerial firefighting with multi-year contracts could weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic fairly well, however they could have increases in operating costs related to managing their personnel and equipment. Their employees might also be quarantined or stricken by the disease, creating staffing challenges. Erickson is involved in much more than firefighting and works extensively for the military. They also sell helicopters, recently delivering two Air-Cranes to the Korea Forest Service.

One issue that could be causing stress for operators of large helicopters is, as we wrote April 22, the four-year U.S. Forest Service exclusive use (EU) contracts for Type 1 firefighting helicopters issued in 2016 expired April 30, 2020. Since new contracts based on the solicitation issued November 15, 2019 have not yet been awarded, the USFS has given 30-day contracts to a handful of vendors. The agency has refused to provide to us any details about the 30-day contracts, but Fire Aviation has learned that approximately five to seven helicopters are presently working on 30-day deals.

Since many of the USFS procurement actions for firefighting aircraft are protested, which delays activation for several months, these 90-day contracts for up to 30 helicopters may be a safety net in case of a protest, in addition to filling the void while there are no long term contracts. If a company receives one of the Type 1 EU contracts, the Forest Service’s solicitation states, they “will then remove your awarded helicopter from consideration for this one-time [90-day] opportunity.”

With the shadow of the pandemic affecting everyday life this is a bad time for the USFS’s dysfunctional aircraft contracting operation to again be too slow in processing a contract that should have been awarded no later than November, 2019 in order to allow time for the typical protests and still be functional from March through November.

Several years ago Erickson grew to the point that they were no longer qualified to bid on USFS helicopter contracts that were limited to “small businesses”. But after their chapter 11 reorganization in 2017, Erickson emerged with new owners and a new ownership structure and the Small Business Administration restored their “small business” status. Ms. Kalman said Erickson submitted a proposal for the latest Type 1 EU contract and is hopeful for an award.

Erickson loads Air-Crane helicopters Australia Greece
Erickson loads Air-Crane helicopters to be shipped from Australia to Greece. Erickson photo, April, 2020. Erickson photo.
Erickson loads Air-Crane helicopters Australia Greece
Erickson loads Air-Crane helicopters to be shipped from Australia to Greece. Erickson photo, April, 2020. Erickson photo.

Elsie and Delilah are on the way to Greece

Air Cranes have finished their assignment in Australia

Elsie And Delilah S-64
Two S-64 Air Crane helicopters ready for an ocean voyage to Greece. Erickson photo.

Two S-64 Air Crane helicopters have completed their assignments in Australia and are loaded on a ship. They will soon be en route to Greece to help firefighters suppress wildfires.

Aircrane pilots assist at CL-215 crash site

When a water-scooping CL-215 air tanker crashed in Greece on June 26, the pilots of two Aircrane helicopters who were working a fire diverted to the site, saw that the aircraft was on fire, and each helicopter dropped three loads of water on the flames. This helped make it possible for one of the CL-215 pilots to extract the other pilot who had a back injury.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Skies Magazine.

[Erickson Aircrane pilots Mike Strasser and Jeff Shelton] and another Aircrane, operated by Jeff Brenhaug and Don McLeod, were fighting a fire about eight miles northwest of Athens, Greece, on June 26, when a Hellenic Air Force Canadair CL-215 waterbomber—known as a “duck”—crashed on a wooded hillside. Thick black smoke was rising into the air as the two Aircranes arrived above the wreckage. 
“It was pretty obvious that it had gone down and it was on fire,” Strasser told Skies. “We decided to switch to light coverage and began dropping water on the plane. As we came in behind the other Crane for our first drop, I was looking out the bubble window and I saw two people on the right side of the aircraft. It looked like one of them was dragging the other out.”

“Just seeing somebody outside [the aircraft] was a good feeling,” said Strasser. “It crashed close to a road, and soon I saw firefighters on the ground rescuing them. We finished up there and headed back to fight the fire.”

But the story didn’t end there for the Aircrane crews. The next day they received a special visitor. Taxiarchis Papamarkos, one of the CL-215 pilots, sought them out to say his thanks.

“He told us the other guy had a back injury and couldn’t walk,” recounted Strasser. “He was trying to help him, but it was getting very hot and his flight suit was singed. He thought he would be dead in 10 seconds. He expected the plane to blow up, so he started counting backwards from 10. But when he got to four, he felt cool rain falling on him. It helped him to pull his friend out.”

The other CL-215 pilot is in the hospital but is expected to recover.