The Helicopter Company (THC) was enlisted to provide emergency medical services, VIP transport and aerial work at this year’s Dakar Rally in January, held in Saudi Arabia. The team at THC used their fleet of Airbus-built H125s to ensure safety and reliability in the desert terrain.
“This year’s race was very close. The top competitors were not far from each other – two-to-three minutes apart – so it was going very fast,” said Gilles Plaisance, Director of Flight Operations at THC. “If one of the competitors was injured during the race, it was our job to get them to the hospital as fast as possible. It was a race against time for us.”
A team of four H125s, an ambulance and fixed-wing aircraft were at the ready throughout the race. THC was charged with the task of airlifting injured drivers from difficult-to-access terrain.
Another challenge to flying in desert conditions is understanding how high you are. “It’s like flying over snow – it’s very uniform and is hard to tell if you are high or low in altitude, which can cause a pilot to become disoriented,” said Plaisance. “All of our Airbus-built helicopters were equipped with radar-altitude devices. It’s incredibly helpful in sandy environments.”
With several aircraft flying during the race, from VIP transportation, HEMS aircraft, to near-to-the-ground filming crews, coordination in the air was paramount. The Helicopter Company’s Airbus-built helicopters were equipped with Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS). “Each pilot could see on their instrument panel in real-time where all of the other aircraft in the area were. It was a big improvement for safety, and works really well on the H125,” said Plaisance.