First class of new French Army helicopter pilots celebrated at Dax »
By Jean-Michel Guhl
Dax, France, 9 February 2011 — Right on time ! The French Land Forces helicopter school EA-ALAT is about to let loose its first class of rotorcraft pilots trained on the new Eurocopter EC120 NHE lead-in rotor-wing trainer, just a week after HeliDax received its 36th and final machine — EC120 NHE serial number 1650, F-HBVN, delivered on 1 February 2011.
The French Army's ALAT (or Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre) is the last of the French armed forces components to still have NCOs serving as pilots. But this is now over, starting in 2012, in a move toward full standardization with the Air Force and the Navy, all future cadets going through the helicopter school will leave the Dax EA-ALAT with the rank of sub or second lieutenant. Other important landmark, through the 9 February celebration, the French Ministry of Defence marked a full year of experience with its very first PFI ever, a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), and a very successful one according to the two main actors involved in this ground breaking initiative: the French Armed Forces on one side, and HeliDax on the other. This process is called ‘externalisation’, out-sourcing the French way.
Indeed, back in 2008 in a move at streamlining its training syllabus and to avoid paying for a new fleet of training helicopters on its own budget, the French government — then in compliance with the expert advise of DGA, the French Procurement Agency — contracted HeliDax to provide a variable volume of flight hours each year to the École d'Application de l'ALAT at Dax, in the sunny south-west of France. Set between 16,000 and 22,000 flight hours per year (during 22 years), this figure was considered adequate to train each year some 150 rotorcraft pilots ; originating from the French armed forces (land, air, naval and military police, Gendarmerie) and, more recently, from the Belgian armed forces. In the months to come likely ‘customers’ of the school could also include Chad and Iraq.
NHE : the Nouvel Hélicoptère École, a HeliDax trademark
Using a brand-new fleet of 36 Eurocoper EC120 NHE rigged out as NHE by HeliDax, the present day EA-ALAT school is nowadays training young pilots for 50% of the cost previously involved. That is when it was flying its own fleet of some 55 SA341 and SA342 Gazelle helicopters ! Of course, fuel consumption of the Turbomeca Arriel 2F delivering 500 hp of the EC120B, compares really well with the 870 hp of the older Turbomeca Astazou XIV used by EA-ALAT during the past two decades. The Arriel turbine is also much less noisy, and a real blessing for the many people living in this touristic part of France. A Franco-Chinese venture, mostly built from composite materials and with a fenestron tail rotor, making it a particularly quiet helicopter (FAA Appendix J flyover noise signature = 78.7 dB SEL, 6.7 dB SEL below Stage 2 limits), the EC120 B is certified to FAR 27 standards, it also features crash-resistant seats and a crash-resistant fuel system.
The design of the Colibri's wide cabin makes it suitable for wide variety of civilian and parapublic missions, such as utility transport, offshore transport, training, law enforcement, casualty evacuation and corporate transport. In the casualty evacuation role, the helicopter can carry one pilot and one stretcher patient as well as one or two medical attendants. For cargo carrying, the Colibri can carry one pilot plus 2.94 cubic meters (103.9 cu. ft.) of total useful load volume (cabin and hold). The EC120's 0.8 cubic meter (28.3 cu. ft.) hold is accessible from the side and rear. For light utility missions, it can carry a sling load cargo of up to 700 kg (1,543 lb).
HeliDax : a DCI innovative creation
DCI's traditional core activities consist of supporting major armament exportation contracts signed with friendly foreign countries guaranteeing transfer of French know-how on equipment sold. As such the company has gradually developed two new areas of expertise: training, consulting and assistance in both defence and domestic security sectors and assistance in project management. DCI differs from armament sector industrialists as it does not sell equipment, and from commercial agents as it is in fact a service provider.
The latest and fourth area of expertise now reinforcing DCI's offer is supporting the French armed forces through the use of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) regarding training and support. DCI thus intends to become a recognized partner of the French Ministry of Defence in this field and its importance is highlighted in the French White Paper on defence and national security (2008). Since France reintegrated the NATO command, DCI has also started acting in a more European context. By participating in some precise projects, particularly within the European Defense Agency (EDA), DCI intends to contribute to the French effort for the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP, which has succeeded the earlier EDSP).
The four operational components of DCI reflect the French Ministry of Defence's structure: COFRAS for the Land Forces and Gendarmerie, NAVFCO for the Navy, AIRCO for the Air Force and finally DESCO for program management. Thus, DCI can now operate on the entire spectrum of defence and security.
DCI's close relationship with its regulatory authorities, the French armed forces and the DGA, is today not only reflected in the group's structure but also in the values shared by DCI in the composition of its personnel. As such, DCI is putting forward a strict French military culture which many foreign armed forces appreciate. Indeed in less than four decades, DCI has become the reference operator for military know-how transfer in France and abroad. And delivering top-notch helicopter training service to the French armed forces with HeliDax is certainly not a small feat !
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