Taking Flight

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-By David Barratt

Part of the World Helicopter Group, Australian Helicopters operates with the singular vision to save lives and protect the environment of the Australian people and to do it in the safest, most efficient way possible.

Operating since the early 1990s, Australian Helicopters has emerged as Australia’s premier Helicopter service provider and mission critical service specialist, serving both government and private interests in the fields of aeromedical evacuation, resource industry support, border surveillance, and in a host of other roles.

Scott Swift, the company’s Managing Director, is not a new face in the world of aviation, being one of the founding executives of Virgin Blue airline which revolutionised the aviation industry in Australia. By the time of his departure from Virgin Blue, the organisation held about one third of the domestic market, having grown into a multibillion dollar company.

Vision, enthusiasm, and passion helped Virgin Blue become the huge success that it was by 2010, and these are qualities which Scott now applies in his leadership position with Australian Helicopters. He speaks of the potential he sees in the company, as well as how his philosophy of business and high standards for excellence and safety can help guide the company in the exciting years to come.

Australian Helicopters is built upon the stable foundation of two helicopter operating companies, who after merging in the early 90s, re-branded and incorporated as Australian Helicopters in 2004. From its early days as a largely marine transport focused company, AustHeli has continued to grow to become a well regarded mission critical specialist with incredible capability, operating across Australia with eight regional bases ranging from the tip of North Queensland to Adelaide.

In 2010, the company was purchased by the World Helicopter Group, giving Australian Helicopters access to the incredible resources and experience of a truly world-wide organisation. “The World Helicopter Group is very large, very significant and is a leader in the world market; with the single mission of saving lives and protecting the environment with the highest safety standards. As a group we deliver over 100 thousand flying hours worldwide, utilising our fleet of 365 helicopters,” says Scott.

Australian Helicopters contributes about 9000 flight hours each year to that total, and much of that work is done for government agencies as mission critical services. With availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the organisation provides a level of comfort for the people and communities they ultimately serve. Scott shares this appreciation for the capability and efficiency of the helicopter as a mission critical tool, and often asks the question, ‘What would happen if we were not there?’ “When you work for Australian Helicopters you know that you’ve potentially saved the lives, or changed the lives of the people in your community and their families. It’s a very good moral cause.”

AustHeli is able to quickly respond to an emergency, having aircraft and support personnel in the air within minutes. “We’re in the air within minutes. For example in Adelaide where we provide emergency medical recovery, support for fire fighting activities and aerial police services, our team lives on base during their shifts so are just metres from the aircraft at any time and ready to go, we have the helicopters prepared to take off, and the alarm goes off much like in a fire station. The centralised approach allows all of the state and federal government [agencies] to task us to provide rotary wing support – it is a very good method.”

The group operates most often in “emergency medical response, search and rescue, aerial fire fighting, surveillance, resource support, and law-enforcement,” but also provides “support for defence and a great deal of oil and gas work, particularly in the North Sea using a sister company Bond Helicopters.”

Demand for Helicopter services and the efficiency they offer is on the rise and government and industry clients alike come to see the benefits, both in terms of value and time, that AustHeli can offer. “I’ve seen how businesses are changing and growing and I see how we are fitting into their plans,” says Scott. Specifically, a helicopter can deliver people and resources quickly and efficiently into remote locations which is particularly useful in heavy industries such as mining, where helicopter delivery can shave hours, days, even months off the time it takes to complete a project.

Australian Helicopters offers a varied set of services and operates a diverse fleet of helicopters to meet the specific needs of its clients in wide-ranging industries. With the ability to design and provide purpose specific machines, the company is unmatched in its ability to cater to specific client needs.

Of course, not all clients require such a personalised approach, and AustHeli maintains a fleet of general purpose machines. “We structure our helicopters to fit the predominance of the mission, but they are interchangeable to a certain degree,” says Scott, meaning that the group always has the appropriate tool to meet customer demands.

“Some clients will design exactly what they need to have in their helicopter, and we will work with them to create a role-specific helicopter to suit their needs.” This is especially true in the medical field, where the company does a great deal of work, as machines need to be designed in such a way as to be able to provide emergency medical attention, often in the harshest of environments. In such cases, a great deal of time and effort is spent working with clients to understand their needs and to create effective response vehicles to meet their particular requirements.

“Our primary task helicopters are closely designed to meet the specific needs of a client, while our multitask [helicopters] need to be much more flexible so that they can be quickly modified to meet the changing demands of each situation.”

One of the company’s major competitive advantages and points of differentiation is that it listens closely and works toward understanding customer needs in order to makes sure that each customer gets the ideal helicopter for their operations. It is not only the company’s product, or high quality of service, but its people that Scott identifies as the company’s greatest asset. “Our long term competitive advantage is always going to be our people. This organisation is driven by its people and we have a fantastic team of professional individuals that are highly trained, highly skilled and passionate about what they do.

“Aviation,” Scott says, “is very dynamic, it’s a high capital cost business and a high people cost business – it has all of those aspects. You’ve got to be good at what you do and develop your competitive advantage; you’ve got to have good people and build up your team.”

The company’s philosophy is to recruit for attitude and train for excellence. Maintaining its impeccable safety record is at the forefront of all the company does. “Safety is how we do business,” states Scott, whose emphasis on safety continues AustHeli’s long tradition of excellence in that area. “Part of the reason that we get the work that we do is because safety is how we do business. Our customers are looking for the quality and the safety of service that we offer. That’s how we stay relevant and responsive to the client’s needs.”

To this end, an aggressive third party auditing system keeps Scott and his team on their toes with a series of visits each month. Though the schedule is gruelling and time consuming, Scott says he enjoys receiving the feedback and hearing great things about the people and the company. “We are audited regularly, and the feedback that we receive is that a lot of [competitors] talk about safety, but it may not be the way their business operates – that’s not the case for us; it is truly our philosophy of business.”

This philosophy, and the stellar reputation for quality and safety that AustHeli has built for itself, has placed the group in an excellent position to take advantage of opportunities for growth. These opportunities exist across the board, with potential benefits in any number of industries. “An example in the UK is the development of wind farms which are offshore. That’s a classic opportunity to use a helicopter to fly in and service the wind farm. They can probably perform six to ten maintenance jobs a day where they would only accomplish two or three in a boat.”

Scott sees continued growth in the company’s future and says, “we have developed specific plans for national growth and continued international growth into Asia and beyond. “I don’t know why we can’t be the dominant helicopter company in Australia. We have all the right attributes and we do see an opportunity to grow within this country and up into Asia. I can see this company doubling in size in the near future.”

At the end of the day, Scott recognises that the people, the culture, and the philosophy of Australian Helicopters is what keeps clients committed to the company and coming back for more. “When customers want to be engaged with dedicated people with a commitment to safety, offering value and being responsive to customers, absolutely they know to come to us.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:13 AM AEDT