At present, the company’s fleet unites 32 of its own helicopters with pilots. In summer this year, the company will be able to employ another eight helicopters. The fleet offers a wide range of services, including first aid flights, maintenance work, a permanent helicopter basis in Cayenne, passenger transports and training for army helicopter pilots.
Occasionally, the company carries out jobs for French TV as well as seasonal jobs, such as fire suppression. “First aid flights are an important business field for us,” says Managing Director Jean-Marc Généchési. “We provide helicopter emergency medical services, for example for the French SAMU organisation, for hospitals and for the health ministry. For SAMU, we also operate a permanent helicopter base.”
Secondly, Hélicoptères de France is well-known for its mountain services. The company transports building materials and mountain huts, accomplishes the assembly and mounting of ski lifts, triggers avalanches and secures cliffs. “Mountain jobs are a challenge and require expertise,” says Mr. Généchési. “You need intensive training and have to expect difficult conditions. The mountains here have an altitude of 4,000 m and more, and the airflow is difficult to calculate. Only pilots who are on duty the whole year round are able to do such flights.”
Hélicoptères de France operates permanent helicopter bases in Grenoble, Nice, French Guyana and Cayenne. “The distances in Guyana are big and the weather and climate conditions are tough,” says Mr. Généchési. “The operations are complex and present logistical challenges. Sometimes, our pilots fly 600 km and more, to bring fuel and gas to remote villages. Also, our fleet is used to control illegal gold digging activities.”
For its passenger transport services, Hélicoptères de France operates further bases in Paris and Aix-en-Provence. Last but not least, the training of helicopter pilots at its base in Pau, in the Pyrenees, is an important business field. “The French government gives these activities to private companies for financial reasons,” explains Mr. Généchési.
Occasionally, the company accomplishes aerial photographry and films jobs for French TV channels, for example, of the Tour de France (in 1999, nine helicopters were employed) and other cycle races, the Ralley Paris Dakar, football matches at the Stade de France or music events at the castle of Versailles.
Founded in 1991, the company started from scratch with just one helicopter. Thanks to several acquisitions, Hélicoptères de France grew continuously. The fusion with Heli-Union France in 2000 was an important strategic milestone in the development of the company.
“Heli-Union is one of the major players in its field in France,” says Mr. Généchési. “Also, the enterprise is internationally renowned for its off-shore and oil platform services. Thanks to this fusion, we were able to accumulate expertise for mountain jobs.”
In 2004, Hélicoptères de France became widely known for its first aid services during a huge natural disaster in France. In the same year, the company was involved in fighting a severe forest fire in the South of France operating Bombardier d’Eau (HBE) helicopters.
“We draw on 15 years of experience in our industry and safety always comes first,” Mr. Généchési explains the company’s success. “Our customers greatly appreciate our stringent safety approach. We hardly have any incidents although our helicopters cover thousands of kilometres every year. Thirdly, the quality of our services is a great asset to our company.”
Last year, Hélicoptères de France was integrated into the Holding Blanc Group (HBG) which is managed by Renauld Blanc. The group unites eight French and Swiss companies in the industry. One of them is Swiss Copter. With 70 helicopters HBG is the biggest player in France.
“Our integration into the group will give our business a new boost,” says Mr. Généchési. “Swiss Copter just started to expand internationally. The company equips an oil platform in Africa. We would like to join in the international development of the group. At present, we hardly work outside of France. We operate in special business fields and our order books are full. So far, we did not have the capacities to take care of foreign markets. Now, our president has developed promising project plans for the Middle East, Madagascar and Africa. I am sure that we will be able to export our know-how. Against this background, we will enhance our international marketing activities, for example participate in international trade fairs. Before we joined the HBG group, we used to be the biggest player in our market sector. Now, our position is even stronger. This is an excellent precondition for further growth.”