Although business has been tough for UK helicopter charter companies in recent times, Capital Air Services is in the process of increasing its managed fleet with the addition of two Sikorsky S-76++ helicopters. This will bring the S-76 fleet to three, to operate alongside a Eurocopter EC155 and a pair of EC135s.
One of the S-76C++ helicopters has a luxurious VIP interior, while the other is outfitted with seating for 12. Its owner has adopted that layout so that a polo team can be transported in one aircraft. Maintenance on the S-76s is being performed by EADS-owned Vector Aerospace at Fleetlands, near Portsmouth.
Capital Air Services operates from a main base at Oxford Airport , with helicopters also based at Cambridge and Manchester. Among the services the company offers are shuttles into central London from Cambridge and Oxford, connecting with overseas business arrivals. The company has closed its Stansted operation as it was becoming difficult to maintain oversight and compliance. Capital’s managing director, Michael Hampton, noted that the UK CAA is tightening regulations regarding “umbrella” operations, in which helicopters have been “tagged on” to AOCs.
Helicopter charter has always been a more ad hoc, week-to-week business compared to the fixed-wing market. In terms of recent business, Hampton reported that the charter market has shrunk in southeast England due to the recession. Exacerbating the decrease was a loss of business experienced by all operators during the 2012 Olympic Games, due to restrictions on flying into London. However, Capital Air Services is reporting increased business into Europe, and the extra range offered by the S-76 has been of particular value in that regard. More customers are demanding two-pilot operations–so the company routinely flies two-pilot crews even though this is not a requirement, said Hampton.