Sion, Switzerland-based operator Air-Glaciers is updating its fleet of light singles and twins in anticipation of eventually phasing out its Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette IIIs.
In the coming months the company will take delivery of a pre-owned Eurocopter AS350B3 Ecureuil (AStar) and a leased EC135. “The idea is to start planning the replacement of our five Alouette IIIs in the short to medium term,” Patrick Fauchère, Air-Glaciers’ flight safety officer, told AIN. Eurocopter (Aerospatiale’s successor) has announced that at some unspecified juncture it will stop supporting the Alouette, and once that happens the EASA will no longer approve the type for commercial operations.
In addition to the five Alouettes, the current fleet consists of 11 Aerospatiale SA315B Llamas, four AS350B3s, one AS350B2, one EC130B4, one EC135 and (for training and pipeline patrol) one Robinson R44. Aerial work, mountain rescue, air ambulance, crop spraying and passenger transport account for a majority of the company’s work, while heliskiing, flight school and sightseeing flights account for the remainder.
“What makes us special is the versatility of our pilots,” Fauchère emphasized. An Air-Glaciers pilot can perform a rescue mission in the morning, fly passengers at noon and carry a wounded cow as a sling load in the afternoon.
In winter, flying in the snowy mountains may resemble a Canadian operator’s business. The difference is in the shorter distances to bases and populated areas. “We are never farther than 15 minutes’ flying from our base,” noted Fauchère. Air-Glaciers has nine bases, all in western Switzerland.