By Paul MacDonald
It would be understandable if you mistook the front office in the hangar of E&B Helicopters for a flight control centre—because that’s partly what it is.
Looking at a large wall-mounted monitor, E&B staff can see where all of the company’s 13 helicopters are at any point, along Vancouver Island and the rugged west coast of British Columbia.
And if there is a logging accident within that area, one of the company’s helicopters may already be on site, or it can be dispatched and be there quickly—sometimes within minutes.
Contrast that with the situation a generation ago, when severely injured loggers were often brought out on logging roads on a crummy, from remote logging sites on the B.C. Coast.
Ed Wilcock, the president of E&B Helicopters of Campbell River, B.C., remembers those days because he lived them. He worked as a logging camp superintendent up and down the B.C. Coast, before starting up E&B.
“I just sort of got into flying when I was working up in Kitimat for Crown Zellerbach,” says Wilcock. “I started with a fixed wing licence and then moved on to helicopters.”
Instead of noodling around and driving a vintage car—the pastime for many a logger—Wilcock took up flying a helicopter, a Bell 47, and has been flying pretty much ever since.
These days, E&B provides air transportation and emergency evacuation services to coastal forest industry companies who often simply provide a block map, longitude and latitude.
Its helicopters are supported by a modern, high tech communications system. Over the last almost three decades in business, the company has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure it has the best communications on Vancouver Island and southern coastal inlets by strategically installing many repeater towers. This allows workers on the ground and helicopter pilots to communicate back to E&B’s home base in Campbell River without interference, which is not an easy task, considering B.C.’s geography. The repeaters are truly the key link to loggers, the helicopters and the E&B office staying in touch.
And it has paid off in saving lives.
“There are people that wouldn’t otherwise still be with us that are here now because of Ed and E & B Helicopters. I know that first-hand,” says Steve Venus, the owner of Blue Thunder Contracting, which operates a contract falling business out of Campbell River. Blue Thunder is a steady user of E&B’s services, to fly its fallers out to remote areas.
Of E & B’s fleet of 13 helicopters, all but one is Medevac (Medical Evacuation) capable, and their machines are able to get in to spots where BC’s Air Ambulance Service machines can’t reach.
When an accident does occur, and someone needs to be evacuated, there is a set procedure, and a helicopter is usually on its way in minutes.
“We’re there—we’re the first responders,” says Wilcock. “Our pilots are very familiar with all the different operating areas.
“As soon as the pilot picks up someone who is injured, they would be communicating back to here in Campbell River, so we would be co-ordinating things for the ambulance to come to the hangar.”
The hangar is only 10 minutes from Campbell River’s new state-of-the-art hospital. In the meantime, E&B staff would also phone the hospital, to give them a head’s up about the extent of the injuries. “It’s all about communications,” says Wilcock.
Directing the communications and co-ordination are E&B staff, who are accredited flight followers. Flight followers are similar to dispatchers, and the work entails flight planning, flight plan filing, weather analysis, and flight monitoring.
Depending on the location, they could have the injured person back in Campbell River in as little as 30 minutes.
Contrast that with getting someone who was injured back by road, if road access was even available, which might take hours.
Wilcock and his pilots are very familiar with the “Golden Hour” concept. The Golden Hour is the first hour after a serious accident, when it’s crucial that an injured patient receives medical treatment in order to have a chance of surviving.
Getting loggers medical care quickly is especially important, since they often have serious internal injuries.
“The goal is to get the injured person from the accident scene to here in Campbell River as quickly as possible,” says Wilcock. “We want to get them off the hillside, to a road or helipad in the logging area, load them in to the helicopter, and get them out of there.”
In some cases, the patients are brought in to Campbell River and then air- ambulanced to Vancouver or Victoria. They get stabilized in Campbell River, and the best care may be with medical specialists in a larger centre.
Looking back, Wilcock says that there has been a marked change in attitudes towards safety in the industry, from the days when he was in logging.
“The common expression about accidents used to be, ‘well, that’s just the way it is, it’s dangerous work’,” he says. “You sure don’t hear that anymore.”
Wilcock has come a long ways from his early days of flying.
Starting with a single Robinson R22 helicopter (that was piloted by Wilcock), E&B has since grown to 13 machines and 13 pilots, and an extensive sales and maintenance program operating out of its two purpose-built hangars totaling 12,500 square feet in Campbell River. It also has bases in Gold River, and Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island.
And those 13 helicopters are busy. On average, upwards of 80 per cent of the fleet is out working every day, though they always keep one machine back at base, in case of emergencies.
Today, its helicopter line-up includes Robinson helicopters, Bell 206 JetRangers, Bell 407s and Bell 206 B3 JetRanger helicopters, a119 Agusta Koala, and an Airbus Helicopter AS350 BA machine.
All E & B’s aircraft are fitted with satellite tracking devices from Latitude Technologies, and have radios with over 100 channels programmed, for different clients. With that set-up, clients can talk directly with the helicopters, says Wilcock.
The workhorses of their fleet are the JetRangers. They have nine of these machines, which are ideal for transporting an engineering crew or fallers, and their gear. “Nothing really beats the JetRanger, to get in and out of tight areas,” says Wilcock. Rather than being specialized in any particular type of work, the JetRanger is versatile enough that it can tackle just about anything.
As its helicopter line-up suggests, the company has expanded to meet the forest industry’s changing needs.
“It used to be that logging camps worked Monday to Friday—it’s not that way anymore. So we’re here for them, seven days a week.”
That work might include taking some fallers out to remote areas to do some high elevation work, or engineers from one of the forest companies headed out to do surveying work.
“We provide all the support,” explains Wilcock. “We put them on a hill, and stay there during the day while they are working, and then bring them back at night—or part way through the day if it gets windy or foggy.
“And if something happens, we get them out of there. We’re basically their ambulance.”
E&B’s support work fits well with the steeper slopes the B.C. forest industry is increasingly operating in. “The industry is now going higher up the slopes because that’s where the wood is, and we take them there,” says Wilcock.
E&B works a fair bit with HeliQWest, which does heli-logging along the B.C. Coast.
“We do pretty much everything for the forest industry except heli-logging,” he says. “Our larger machines will even do fire fighting in the summer.”
A recent acquisition to work in firefighting is a Leonardo Helicopters AW119 Koala, which joined the fleet in 2015. The Koala is said to be the largest and most powerful light single engine multi-role helicopter in the market, and is equipped with advanced digital avionics. That power comes in handy, as it’s able to handle a 270 gallon bucket in fighting forest fires.
Wilcock’s background in the forest industry has been helpful, and he has been recognized for his commitment to the industry and safety (see sidebar story).
Though it has meant a significant investment in equipment, Wilcock says E&B’s size has paid off for them over the years. “And I think us being here seven days a week is important.” Smaller operations might not be able to offer that level of service. They also have plenty of back-up, with their large fleet of machines.
And with a range of helicopters, they can more easily adapt to meet customer needs. “Yesterday, we had a Bell 206 scheduled to go out, and then all of sudden, we had two more people going out, so we were easily able to change machines, to a Bell 407, to accommodate that.”
An important part of what E&B does includes meeting the safety regulations of the forest companies they work for. An example is one forest company requires that machines be completely shut off when people are dropped off and picked up. Whatever safety regulations a company has, E&B is able to adhere to them.
And for E&B it’s not always about flying people around—their helicopters can help loggers when they have serious equipment problems.
If a piece of key logging equipment breaks down in a remote part of the coast, and it needs either parts or a dealer mechanic, E&B can deliver both.
“A logger might be broke down at the head of Bute Inlet and need parts or a mechanic up there right away,” says Wilcock. “With the equipment being so computerized now, sometimes they can’t fix it out in the bush themselves.”
And their pilots have plenty of experience, a good asset when you are talking about flying into remote areas along B.C.’s rugged coastline—and its sometimes unpredictable weather. Their average pilot has 10,000+ hours of experience. Many of their pilots have flown on the B.C. coast for more than 20 years. Wilcock himself has 20,000 hours of flying time under his belt.
“It’s probably some of the most demanding work you can do, flying into remote areas and landing on very small pads—it’s not like landing a helicopter at an airport. But it’s an everyday part of the job for our pilots.”
E&B Helicopters’ Ed Wilcock’s commitment to safety was recognized last year by the BC Forest Safety Council, with Wilcock being awarded the Cary White Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award.
The award noted that Wilcock’s understanding and appreciation of workers’ safety in the forest industry started with his own boots on the ground, working in the industry—and that his commitment to the forest industry has been proven many times over.
On many occasions, Wilcock and his company are the last resort for loggers. Forestry workers say that without E&B’s availability, they simply would not be able to go to work each day.
E&B can be essentially the go-to guys for getting loggers to work, on northern Vancouver Island.
“The phone starts ringing early in the morning, asking if we are flying that day,” says Wilcock. “If we can’t fly, the loggers can’t work because we are their line of safety, with our Medevac capabilities.”
On the Cover:
Fallers in B.C’s coastal forest industry work in tough ground—and safety is paramount. E&B Helicopters has the back of fallers, and the forest companies, operating on the coast, through providing air transportation and emergency evacuation services. Its Medevac (Medical Evacuation) capable helicopters are able to get in to spots where B.C.’s Air Ambulance Service machines can’t reach. Read all about E&B and its president, Ed Wilcock, and the services it offers to fallers beginning on page 14 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of BC Forest Safety Council).
Newfoundland’s new forestry voice
The new Newfoundland and Labrador Forest Industry Association will be better able to present industry’s case to the provincial government—and present it with a common voice.
Rebound at Rutherglen
Columbia Forest Products’ Rutherglen, Ontario veneer mill has reopened and is now looking at expanded production, thanks to a rebound in plywood production—and demand for veneer from a soon-to-be-expanded Columbia plywood plant.
The Go-to-Guys for loggers
E&B Helicopters provides air transportation to coastal forest industry companies, being the go-to-guys for getting loggers to work in remote areas—and sometimes being the first responders in case of serious accidents.
Continuing to battle the beetle in B.C.
The mountain pine beetle infestation in B.C. may be in the forest industry’s rear mirror, but it now has the spruce bark beetle to deal with, and loggers are well into the salvage and control measure mode.
Nine-axle trucks get traction in B.C.
It’s been a bit of a haul, but nine-axle logging trucks have finally gained traction in B.C. now that the rigs’ potential benefits are better understood and appreciated.
Stacking ‘em up in Saskatchewan
A new Sennebogen 830 M-T log handler’s stacking ability has boosted yard capacity for Saskatchewan’s Edgewood Forest Products—and is helping the mill feed the appetite of its new sawline.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Short rotation woody crop deployment in Canada is now at a crossroads, says Tony Kryzanowski.