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NEST operation expands to include aircraft maintenance

September 4 2015

NEST operation expands to include aircraft maintenance

The Northland Emergency Services Trust is the first rescue helicopter operation in New Zealand to get approval to undertake maintenance on its own aircraft.

NEST will carry out the specialist work needed on its fleet of three Sikorsky S-76 helicopters following its authorisation as a Part 145 certified operation from the Civil Aviation Authority.

It means the trust will be able to make valuable financial savings, and give it greater flexibility when scheduling maintenance for its aircraft.

The Whangarei-based service has been working towards the certification for a year, during which time it has refined its infrastructure and increased its capabilities to meet CAA requirements.

NEST Chief Executive Pete Turnbull says as a trust it has financial responsibilities to make savings where it can and the regular aircraft maintenance required is a huge but necessary expense.

“This means substantial savings can be made by reducing flights down to Ardmore in Auckland for maintenance and being able to purchase components and parts direct from suppliers.”

Mr Turnbull says there are also major operational benefits of doing the maintenance in house as it means less downtime for the helicopters, allowing them to get back into the air quicker which results in an even more reliable and top quality service.

“We’re always looking at ways we can extract more available time from the helicopters and we strongly believe that doing the maintenance ourselves will help us achieve this.”

The new maintenance operation, which starts this month, has also created three new jobs in Northland.

The extension of NEST’s operations to include maintenance will make the service even more unique in New Zealand. It’s already the busiest rescue helicopter service in New Zealand, having carried more than 17,000 patients since starting in 1988, and because of the vast area and amount of coastline in the Northland region, NEST’s capability is far greater than any other rescue helicopters.

Demand on the service, which includes everything from patient transfers and emergency response through to long-range at-sea rescues, is increasing at a rate of 10% per annum.

“That makes it even more essential that all the helicopters are used to capacity,” says Mr Turnbull.

“In the past we’ve found it difficult maintaining a 24/7 call out reliability because each helicopter has to undergo major maintenance annually. This took the helicopter out of service for up to 7 or 8 weeks. During that time we found we were vulnerable in terms of optimum response times for urgent rescues.

“But now that we will be doing the maintenance, a reduced turnaround time from 8 weeks to 5 weeks means that we can be back up and running quicker to minimise the risk of not having a helicopter to provide a necessary service.”

Mr Turnbull says NEST’s certification, which required them to provide evidence of its internal quality assurance, maintenance control systems, the proposed maintenance to be undertaken, and the qualifications of staff, was achieved with guidance from Aviation Maintenance Control New Zealand Ltd and NEST’s quality assurance manager Rod Trott.

Another money saving exercise was using DIY know-how to make their own engineering tools to undertake the specialist maintenance required. This includes designing a custom-built hydraulic rig to help move the helicopter’s controls and undercarriage systems which would have been excessively expensive if bought from overseas.

Since NEST started in 1988 it has contracted Ardmore-based Hawker Pacific Pty Ltd to carry out its aircraft maintenance. NEST still enjoys a strong relationship with Hawker Pacific, and the company will continue to do NEST’s regular avionics maintenance.

But, says Mr Turnbull, NEST saw an opportunity to strengthen its own position by becoming maintenance certified.

“It’s just evolution. NEST has expanded and with this growth there has been a change in structure and capabilities.”

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