Wildfires are a constant global threat nowadays, with only their severity varying depending on the seasons in each hemisphere. Air Lama, Horizon Helicopters and Heli Austria have now forged an alliance that spans the globe in order to carry out firefighting missions in Chile with the H215.

South America and Africa together account for two-thirds of the total forest area destroyed by wildfires. These two regions suffered a combined annual rate of net forest loss of 6.5 million hectares in 2010-2020 (1). Chile is one of the countries most severely affected by this problem. One of the worst wildfires on record in 2017 ravaged some 600,000 hectares of forest and killed 11 people. Now Chile is struggling with wildfires again, so they have brought in international help.

A global firefighting alliance

This year, two Super Pumas arrived in Chile through local operator Air Lama, one owned by Canadian company Horizon Helicopters and another by Heli Austria. Their aim: to pool their resources to carry out firefighting missions in Chile.

There’s a great synergy between all three companies, and the country’s geographical location in the southern hemisphere allows us to provide the essential services required by the Chilean government.

Cole Hodinski, Operations Manager, Horizon Helicopters

Heli Austria’s H215 was the first to touch down in the country, while the ‘FireCat’ operated by Horizon Helicopters arrived later on in February 2021 by boat. Both these helicopters are based at the Air Lama facility in Colina, located a few minutes from the capital city, Santiago de Chile. From there, they have been deployed in regions across the country to battle over 5,500 wildfires during 2020-2021.

The Super Puma: a tireless workhorse

“The national market in Chile doesn’t have the capacity for operators to have a helicopter of this calibre year-round to battle the flames as this affects profitability if it is only occupied for the season,” explains Xavi Vilaró, CEO of Air Lama. The company opted to bring the H215s in from Canada and Europe. “In the heavy helicopter segment, the H215 clearly leads the field in terms of the number of firefighters it can carry and its 4,000-litre water discharge capacity. It also has the longest range in its category. Our customer, CONAF, is more than satisfied.”

“The H215 is more cost-efficient compared to bigger helicopters like the Chinooks so our customer in Chile is very happy,” explains Roy Knaus, CEO of Heli Austria, who has prior firefighting experience with the Super Puma in Sardinia. “We hope to use Super Pumas more for firefighting operations around the world on the back of our experience in Italy and Chile.”

Working with the H215 on firefighting missions year-round allows us to make better use of the helicopter, particularly in the off-season for Europe.

Roy Knaus, CEO of Heli Austria

“The Super Puma is a very fast and powerful multi-mission rotorcraft, making it highly effective for firefighting operations. It can be reconfigured quickly to handle any situation we may be tasked with,” adds Cole Hodinski, Operations Manager at Horizon Helicopters. “We’re proud to have this opportunity to work together to provide first-class firefighting services in Chile.”

Two helicopters, two hemispheres

This is the first time that helicopters from Europe and Canada have worked together in Chile under the same operator to help wildfires in the country, an operation that proved particularly delicate due to the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had to ship the helicopters from Europe to Chile. The COVID-19 situation meant we had to overcome a number of hurdles, including quarantine restrictions and issues with work permits. The language barrier has been less of a problem because our partner Air Lama has excellent co-pilots,” says Roy Knaus. “As for the logistics, we’re quite used to operating the H215 off a main base. The big advantage with this rotorcraft is its excellent reliability.”

The H215 is a highly manoeuvrable helicopter with outstanding performance, so it handles adverse meteorological conditions such as turbulence particularly well.

Xavi Vilaró, CEO of Air Lama

“For the moment, there aren’t enough flight hours for firefighting operations year-round, but we’re also seeing growth in the mining and electricity sector, where the H215 is also an excellent option,” concludes Xavi Vilaró.


(1) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 – FAO.