Every summer, Airtelis hires H215 and H225 water bombers to work alongside French Civil Security aircraft. The helicopters work perfectly in tandem with fixed-wing aircraft.

022 was one of the worst years for wildfires in France, with almost 80,000 hectares going up in smoke. In the wake of a dramatic summer, the government decided to reinforce its fleet of water- bombing helicopters (hélicoptères bombardiers d’eau, HBEs) by turning to private operators. The request for proposal launched in October 2022 was for 10 helicopters, including six heavy helicopters, for 2023 to 2026.

“We secured this contract by forming a temporary grouping of companies (Groupement Momentané d’Entreprise, GME) with the SAF1,” explains Laurent Giolitti, Executive President of Airtelis. “Under the terms of the contract signed with public authorities, we each provide three aircraft from the Super Puma family for the fire season, from the beginning of June to the end of September. For our part, we own two of the aircraft we provide, while the third is leased from our partner Heliswiss.”

Powerful and versatile

Airtelis is a longstanding user of the H215 and H225 in France, and already owns four helicopters. Its blue and white helicopters are regularly used at lifting sites, and one has also been leased to the French Air Force since 2017 to train its H225 crews. “Our helicopters were also well known to the French fire service, as we have been under contract with French Civil Security since 2020,” notes Laurent Giolitti.

Powerful and versatile, and particularly well suited to slinging heavy loads (up to 4.7 tonnes for the H225), the H215 and H225 make ideal HBEs. The helicopters are equipped with bubble doors to improve pilot visibility, cable cutters and versatile air inlets to protect the engines. “In the HBE configuration, we add radios to communicate with the fire brigade and a siren to alert them of the drop,” he adds. The work is done with a 4,000 litre capacity Bambi Bucket, fitted with an integrated pump and carried by a 30 or 40 metre long sling. In this configuration, the H225 offers around 1 hour and 15 minutes of autonomy.

Our pilots in command are HESLO2 qualified and train with the fire brigade before the fire season. In flight, they are always joined by personnel from the French Civil Security who liaise with the troops on the ground and give operational instructions.

Laurent Giolitti, Executive President of Airtelis

Using the Bambi Bucket with a sling makes it possible to reach water in deep ravines and valleys, while still allowing extremely precise drops close to the flames. This makes the HBE ideal for fighting emerging fires or ‘beating down’ existing ones. Its versatility also means it can move equipment or firefighters if necessary. There is no doubt in our mind that, thanks to their speed of response, flexibility of use and the fact that they can be based extremely close to highrisk areas, with a minimal logistical footprint, HBEs are an excellent complement to Canadair CL415 and Dash 8 water bombers. The contracts signed with the French Civil Security in 2022 also specify that the HBEs can be deployed outside France, so the French fire brigade’s satisfaction now goes beyond borders.

And four for Airtelis

The company based in Avignon (Vaucluse) currently has four Super Puma family helicopters: the two H225s and one H215 were joined at the beginning of November 2023 by an additional H225 purchased secondhand. The helicopter, which entered into service in 2014, had an initial, relatively inactive career in the offshore industry, with just 900 flying hours to its credit. It will be rapidly adapted to lifting activities and benefit from a PBH per flight hour maintenance contract with Airbus Helicopters.

Airbus release

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