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Nov
01
2021

FLYING INTO THE WILD

Posted 26 days ago ago by Admin

READ THIS FEATURE IN THE SEP/OCT DIGITAL ISSUE

VIDEO FEATURE

“The Big Five” game animals are the ultimate goal to see when going on a safari. South Africa's wildlife parks will not let you down on this goal and you will leave with a big smile on your face.

The Big Five is not the only ultimate experience South Africa has to offer. Flying straight into the midst of the wilderness is an experience unlike any other. Flying above the parks, catching stunning views, seeing herds graze, and getting flown straight to the helipad of a safari bush lodge is an incomparable experience and once in a lifetime adventure.

MCC Aviation, a private air charter solution that is based in Johannesburg, tries to make such an adventure come true.

From visiting construction sites to running private charters

In 1978 Mike Barnes, founder of MCC Aviation, started flying helicopters whilst running a construction related business. “We started working on the civil engineering division and my goal was to reach our sites quicker.”

In 1980 Barnes bought his first helicopter, a Robinson R22, so he would be able to fly to and land on local construction sites, as using fixed-wing aircraft to reach and land on these locations was impossible. 

“Fortunately, the Robinson became affordable. This Robinson was the starting point that from then on allowed us to use helicopters in our company. I trained my own engineers to fly as I wanted them to fly rather than drive. It was a quicker and safer way of travelling,” says Barnes.

Until 2003, he used these helicopters only internally in his construction business, but a year later Mike Barnes opened MCC Aviation and officially entered the commercial aviation space. 

Today, MCC Aviation's fleet consists of 10 helicopters and four fixed-wing aircrafts. They own four Airbus H125s, four Bell 407s, one Bell 206L-4, and one Bell 505. When asked why they use the Bell helicopters Mike Goodwin, general manager of MCC Aviation, explains, “Bell helicopters are our preferred VIP / corporate helicopters.”

Goodwin continues and says they have over 20 first class pilots on their team and depending on requirements also hire freelance pilots. “Training for all our pilots is conducted in Johannesburg, South Africa,” explains Goodwin. “We also have eight people on our maintenance crew, as all our helicopters are maintained internally as we have an SACAA- approved Part 145 aircraft maintenance organization.”

Although they are primarily a private charter operator, their helicopters offer other services including lifting/slinging, medical emergency, construction, power-line maintenance, human external cargo, and fire fighting. “We have two seasons for firefighting – one in the “Cape” (Cape Town) which lasts from November to April and then from April/May to November on the Highveld (a portion of South Africa’s inland plateau), where we do firefighting in the forests,” Mike Barnes explains. “We haven't been very active in the Cape yet, but this is going to be our fourth year of fighting the fires in the forest areas of the Mpumalanga highveld.” Barnes says that they use the Airbus H125 for firefighting as it is the most versatile, low maintenance helicopter, and carries low acquisition costs, while excelling in high and hot and extreme environments.

While talking about the hot and extreme environments fires cause, Mike Barnes explains that the change of seasons also brings unique challenges when flying helicopters. “In this time we experience strange weather conditions, so weather is a challenge for visual flying. Our helicopter flying is all visual so one has to be very respectful of the weather.”

Safari bush lodge with the Bell 505

In MCC Aviation they do a lot of support in the hospitality industry taking people to game lodges with fixed wings. Barnes explains that they usually use fixed wings for such opportunities as it is more expensive to fly a helicopter so far out. Yet, sometimes they do make an exception and fly their guests out to bush lodges with a helicopter. 

One of their private charters included a helicopter transfer to the safari lodge located in Pilanesberg National Park. The helicopter in use for this flight was the Bell 505. When asked how Bell helicopters enhance the customer experience, Goodwin answers that they exude a luxury VIP experience combined with the convenience factor of being able to fly direct from the airport to the bush lodge.

Bell 505 offers somewhat more than just a luxury adventure. It is the perfect choice for such destinations as it gives you the chance to reach places that no other fixed wing aircraft can, moreover its big windows and glass cockpit allow the guests to bask in the sun and enjoy the spectacular views and get a chance to see some of the wildlife already from the comfort of the helicopter cabin. 

Barnes, an experienced pilot, explains why he decided to add Bell 505 to his fleet. “Being in the charter business now as well I thought to myself we are missing out on the 5-seater market and so it was a natural progression to take in the 505. Having flown for as long as I have, it is also such a pleasure being able to bring a helicopter and land it home. It is amazing to be able to fly a turbine helicopter to your home.”

Barnes continues that he's been very impressed with the power of 505. “We have been spoiled by turbine-power helicopters and being above 5,000 feet here in Johannesburg, which itself is a challenge on power limitations. Turbine power takes care of that problem straight away and one definitely respects the power of the helicopter a lot more.”

Everything is good news

Sometimes when flying helicopters technical issues do occur and at such times it is of utmost importance to keep calm and react responsibly. Mike Barnes tells us about his experience when he had a flame-out at 500 feet. “Fortunately it was not over a built-up area. I had to maneuver an autorotation and land because we had a failed fuel valve.” Barnes continues and says that with helicopters everything is good news, there is no bad news. Everything that ever happens is always looked upon as a valuable lesson. 

Barnes didn't experience only such lessons, he also did experience some amazing and unforgettable moments in his helicopter cabins. “We flew President George Bush, he wasn't currently president of the United States of America and he was happy to fly with a single pilot in a single-engine American helicopter. We flew him with the Bell 407GX.” The Bell 407 also happens to be Barnes' favorite helicopter. He said, “Every pilot likes to ride fast and smoothly and that is exactly what the 407 offers.”

The majority of MCC Aviation's fleet are Bell helicopters and when asked how they are satisfied with their performance, Mike Goodwin explains that “performance and reliability of our Bell fleet is excellent with a 99% dispatch reliability factor.”

Air charter services are becoming all the more popular as more and more corporate executives, VIP guests, and smaller private groups express the demand to fly out where traditional, scheduled airlines don't fly. At MCC Aviation they tend to hear out their clients wishes and say that “as long as the destination’s airstrip complies with the requirements to safely land and depart the aircraft again, we can land at any destination of your choice.”

South Africa is truly a magical land, with so much to experience, so much to see. This country is not just a haven for wild animals, it also boasts spectacular landscapes, and being given the chance of seeing them from a helicopter cockpit is magnificent. 

As Barnes put it, helicopters are always good news. At MCC Aviation they prove that with every flight. The saying goes – you cannot leave Africa because Africa lives in you. The same can be said for aviation. It is a forever growing passion.