United Helicopters takes off in Blaine

Published on Thu, Jun 6, 2002 by Jack Kintner

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United Helicopters takes off in Blaine

By Jack Kintner

The sleek red, white and blue helicopter seen lifting off from the Blaine Airport is part of Blaine’s newest business, United Helicopters. They began operating with one aircraft last week, and will add two more soon to provide charter service all over the northwest and in Alaska.

“We hope you look for us, but if you hear a helicopter over Blaine or low over the border, that’s probably not us since our work is always out of town,” said Wil Southam, owner of United’s sister company, Silverstar Helicopters in Langley, B.C.

Southam, 55, has been busy in Blaine over the past year volunteering his time and experience to help United through a thicket of FAA regulations governing new charter operators.

He also negotiated the lease with the City of Blaine for the hangar and office that was once home to Nelson Air Services, a business that local owner Don Nelson closed several years ago. As a part of the lease United agreed to retain the pilots’ lounge, where local and transient pilots have access to FAA flight planning and weather information via computer.

United’s employees, all Whatcom county residents, include operations manager Michael Bucove, 57, and chief pilot Kevin Kerr, 26. Wendell Bosch, 29, works the ramp while building time on his commercial license toward the FAA’s “part 135” certification for commercial charter work.
Front office support, to be hired shortly, and jet mechanic Kerry Denman round out the staff. Through its shop, United provides maintenance for other helicopters operated by customs and locally by the national guard for the border patrol. Both agencies use the same model four-seat turbine-powered Bell JetRanger 206 that United does. The Border Patrol also operates a MD 600N, identified by its twin tail boom and no tail rotor.

United’s JetRanger, with the distinctive red, white and blue paint scheme, will soon be joined by a “LongRanger,” a 206 stretched to accommodate 6, and a much larger Bell 205++. With a gross weight three times that of United’s other two aircraft this helicopter will spend most of its time from May through November doing heavy lifting at forest fires, returning to Blaine only occasionally for maintenance until returning for winter storage in November.

Though the model is fairly common, United has the only 205++ in Washington certified to carry passengers as well as external loads such as harvested timber or water in 500-gallon buckets, a versatility that Kerr said will help generate as much work as possible during the six-month fire season.

“At over $2,000 per hour it’s expensive,” said Kerr, “but it can do big jobs. You could fly it to Safeco Field and pick up the Mariner’s starting lineup, plus a DH, two relievers, Lou Pinella and the moose and be back home in under two hours. We have customers who are glad to have that kind of capacity.”

United Helicopters can be reached at 332-1941. Their mailing address is P.O. Box 1862, Blaine, WA 98231-1862, and their website will be www.unitedhelicopters.com when finished in two to three weeks.
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