December 2006 / January 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF HELI-LOGGING
Constant changes in the forest industry have resulted in some smaller companies that were doing heli-logging going by the wayside, but the surviving companies could see more work coming their way in the form of harvesting beetleinfested timber.
By Diane Mettler
Ask someone in heli-logging how business is going and they will inevitably answer, “Up and down.” But that’s probably a good answer in more ways than one.
Lance Tanner, operations manager for Pacific Air Crane, a charter company providing support for the heavy lifters, underscores some of the downs. “Business is a lot tougher than it was eight or nine years ago, partly because of the softwood tariffs. We’re supposed to be seeing resolution to the softwood dispute, but that has yet to unfold as to how it will really work for companies.”
Some of the recent “ups” have included a booming housing market and high timber prices, making logging in general more profitable. On the flip side, recent “downs” have been increased fuel prices and maintenance costs.
“When your operating costs get so high that you’re extracting a product that is worth less than what your operating costs are, then it doesn’t work any more. And we are very close to that now with fuel increases and parts increases and a decrease in the lumber market,” says Bud Kaufman, president of the Croman Corporation.
In the future, maintenance costs are likely to rise as the heavy-lifting fleet gets older and parts get harder to come by. But more work may be on its way for heli-logging in the form of beetle-infested timber.
These constant changes in the industry have definitely weeded out the smaller companies. “Back around 2000, you had a lot of guys who had a single Bell 204, 205 or 212 and called themselves a heli-logging company,” recalls Tanner. “At that time there was no other work for the helicopters, so these guys said, ‘Lets go do some heli-logging.’ But very few of those smaller companies are around anymore.
Your main helicopter companies—like Canadian Air-Crane, Helifor, Croman Corp, Coulson and VIH—have dedicated divisions to helicopter logging and have invested millions and millions of dollars.”
But despite the dramatic “ups and downs” of heli-logging, things are still looking up. “I can only speak for Pacific Air-Crane,” says Tanner, “but we’re flying strong. Our maintenance program is working well and the aircraft are putting in their hours.”
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