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December 2003 January 2004

HELI-LOGGING

Flying through the downturn

In spite of the tough business conditions for loggers on the BC Coast, Hayes Forest Services has expanded its operations in recent years, adding to its heli-logging services and securing a large new contract with Weyerhaeuser.

By Paul MacDonald

Hayes has three Sikorsky S-61 machines for heli-logging.

At a time when many logging contractors are looking just to keep their harvesting volume steady, a large BC contracting and forest services company has been quietly going about expanding its operations, both in taking on additional contract harvesting work and becoming more involved in that most premium of harvesting methods, heli-logging. While it may not have been among the first to set up heli-logging operations in BC, Vancouver Island-based Hayes Forest Services seems to have found a market niche and is expanding its operations and aggressively taking on work throughout the province.

In terms of its own business strategy, company management believes it is critical that heli-logging be among the array of services they offer to customers, such as forestry giant Weyerhaeuser. In the past 10 years, Hayes has made a significant multi-million dollar investment in helicopter equipment and, more recently, in a state-of-the-art maintenance facility. The family-owned forest services company first got involved with heli-logging in 1994, leasing a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane. Having got their rotors wet with that machine, they bought their first machine, a Sikorsky S-61, nicknamed “Shortskys,” in 1995.

The helicopters are custom shortened for heli-logging, hence the nickname. The benefits of the shorter machine include increased lift capacity and greater aircraft maneuverability. The first machine was followed by two more S-61s in the years to follow. “The S-61s presented us with the best opportunities,” explains Glen Golbeck, vice-president of operations for Hayes. “They work well in the coastal areas and in the wood profiles of our own areas on the coast. They also give us opportunities in the BC Interior, so they’re pretty flexible.”

Martin Kamma, manager of Hayes’ aviation department, in front of one of the company’s four Bell 206 B Jet Ranger support helicopters.

The impetus to first get involved with heli-logging came from the company’s own operations. A portion of Hayes’ cut was allocated to heli-logging, so they were faced with the choice of setting up their own heli-operation or seeing that harvesting contracted out to others. “We made a conscious decision to go for heli-logging on our own,” says Golbeck. “It was part of a bigger business decision at Hayes to be a full-service forest service provider. And that means providing all forest services—including heli-logging—not just conventional logging.” They try to move 160,000 cubic metres of wood per machine per year, giving them a total, with the three helicopters, of 480,000 cubic metres a year in a good year.

But, as with conventional logging, volume all depends on the terrain and the haul on any particular job. If the flight distances to the landing are shorter, they can harvest more wood, and if the distances are longer, they move less wood. “It really comes down to how far you have to travel and what kind of payload you can handle,” says Golbeck. “It’s measured by how many cubic metres of wood an hour can be moved.” Golbeck, company president Donald Hayes and senior vice-president Harold Hayes carefully work on each heli-logging bid, with the emphasis on careful. When you are working out how long it will take to log an area, with the helicopters costed out at thousands of dollars an hour, they obviously want to be as accurate as possible.

There are certain formulas that they use, but each block is unique. Each area is subject to different weather conditions and wind direction, which all have a direct impact on flying times, and steep terrain, which also affects helicopter operations. In preparing bids, local knowledge is crucial, so Hayes does its homework. Summers are the busiest time of year for the heli-operations simply because that’s the easiest time of year to access the wood, provided forest fires are not serious. Duty days for the heli-crews are about 14 hours a day, with about 10 hours of that actual flying time. For the rigging crew on the ground, choking cables around the timber to be transported, the days are about 11 hours, including prep work. With the high cost of heli-logging, the payload is generally high-value wood. On the BC Coast, Hayes is bringing in mostly sought-after old growth western red cedar and some Douglas fir. “Those are the target market species these days,” says Golbeck. “We’ve logged some second growth, but second growth lends itself to mechanical or conventional logging unless there are some environmental concerns, like a fish creek.”

Their daily production goals are site specific, and depend largely on available payloads, flying times and weather conditions. But on a good day, they will bring in 1,000 cubic metres of that high-value wood. Longer flys might result in 500 cubic metre days. The Sikorskys are capable of carrying up to 10,000 pounds a lift. Golbeck explains that there are obviously some very significant differences in doing heli-logging vs conventional logging. Unlike the operation of feller bunchers or cable logging out in the bush, heli-logging operations, like all aviation operations, are heavily regulated by Transport Canada. There are established, extremely high benchmarks for aircraft maintenance (see sidebar story on Hayes’ maintenance program page 12).

One of the reasons is that, unlike other means of transporting wood, say a logging truck for example, if you run into mechanical problems with helicopters, you can’t just pull off the road or into a pull-out. With aircraft it gets a lot more complicated than that, whether you’re transporting people or logs. “We fully comply with all applicable regulations,” says Golbeck. The last thing any heli-logging operations wants, he notes, is to be running into mechanical problems 500 feet in the air, with 10,000 pounds of logs. Whenever possible, the Hayes heli-crews work with the existing landings and already in-place equipment. “We frequently have heli and conventional logging operations working together. It can save on the equipment costs because it is already in place. We work closely with our customers on using equipment that is already there and using existing landings.”

Golbeck adds that it crucial that all facets of harvesting work smoothly with a heli-logging operation. This includes the fallers taking extra care in falling and bucking the timber for maximum merchandized wood, to the chokers setting up the rigging, to moving the wood with the Sikorskys, and loading and moving the timber. Having an even flow of wood is so important in all logging operations, but arguably even more important with heli-logging because of the costs involved. And moving the timber effectively is what it is all about for Hayes and its clients. “Customers are looking for high value and productivity from heli-logging,” Golbeck says. “There are a lot of very good heli-logging operators out there. But one thing that separates us is that we are also very good loggers.” Hayes does significant volumes of conventional harvesting, and recently took over additional harvesting operations for Weyerhaeuser’s Franklin Division in Tree Farm Licence 44 on Vancouver Island.

The deal represented one of the largest forest services contracts in BC history. “Heli-logging is just one of the full range of services we offer, and we do our best for customers when we can look at the big picture for them. We have our own log loaders, our own trucks, and we do booming and sorting, so we understand those phases very well.” Hayes is not, he says, just in the business of moving wood from A to B with helicopters. In terms of the move into heli-logging, Golbeck sees a bright future for this type of logging, and credits company president Donald Hayes with having the vision to see beyond the current difficulties of the industry. “It’s been a big undertaking and investment, but it’s had his full support.”

Sidebar pg 11

Hayes does some tricky work with bug-killed wood

While Hayes Forest Services started out heli-logging on the BC coast, it has expanded and now does a fair amount of work in the BC Interior. Over the last several years, it has done a number of projects in the Prince George area, doing select harvesting in mountain pine beetle affected areas. This involves taking out only the beetle-affected wood. Some of these jobs came with unique logistical challenges. On one, they had the arduous task of select harvesting a massive 1,500 plots within a single Tree Farm Licence (TFL) for Dunkley Lumber. “These plots were all over the TFL,” says Hayes vice-president of operations Glen Golbeck. “The challenge was trying to best co-ordinate the helicopter time, maximizing its time in the air, maximizing the payloads, and minimizing its time on the ground.” That particular job took three-and-a-half months. The Sikorsky S-61 helicopters that Hayes works with are well suited to moving timber period, whether it is in the BC Interior or on the coast, Golbeck says. “We’ve worked in the Central Interior, the Northern Interior, the Queen Charlottes. They give us great versatility.”

 

Maintenance a top priority with heli-logging equipment

Some logging contractors have extensive maintenance logs, mostly computer-based, with a lot of detail about what has been done to this loader or that feller buncher. But the maintenance logs that the aviation department at Hayes Forest Services maintains go quite a few steps beyond that. “We’re very regulated in the aviation industry, says Martin Kamma, manager of Hayes’ aviation department. “The equipment logs we have record absolutely everything that has been done to the helicopters in terms of repair and maintenance.”

The logs are truly the definition of extensive, with individual components having their own documentation. Kamma illustrates this by pointing out a four-inch thick binder that contains every bit of repair and maintenance information on just the main gearbox on one of their three Sikorsky S-61 helicopters. The main point of this exhaustive record system, both on the part of Transport Canada and Hayes, is to have the helicopters in good repair so they can run as safely as possible. But an offshoot of this, on the maintenance side, is that aviation operations are also able to catch things before they become expensive repairs.

A case in point would be helicopter transmissions. A good overhaul on a transmission, with no faults found, would be about $40,000, says Kamma. But if there are a lot of components that have to be re-worked or replaced, the price tag could go up to $300,000. When each of Hayes’ Sikorsky S-61s are out in the field, they are accompanied by a crew chief and licensed engineer, both of whom can carry out repairs on the helicopter. They do the DIs (Daily Inspections) required by Transport Canada, and any necessary maintenance overnight, ensuring the helicopter is available to log its maximum flying hours during daylight hours.

Each of the helicopters has its own trailer unit, and a service truck equipped with a Hiab crane to do any major component repairs. All of the on-the-ground fuel tanks are double-walled, surpassing environmental regulations. “The logging is very demanding on the helicopters,” says Kamma. “They work hard, but that is why we have an accelerated maintenance program.”

 

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