Neels van Eijk, CEO / Chief Pilot and Mark Loretz, Sales and Marketing Manager: Whirlwind Aviation Tanzania Limited (“Whirlwind Aviation”)

Whirlwind Aviation provides the only readily available commercial helicopter service in Tanzania: can we start with a brief history of the company here?

Whirlwind Aviation’s main purpose here is aero medical. Tanzania is enormous and lacking in infrastructure, many people die unnecessarily as rescue services in the country struggle to cover the distances between places. Whirlwind Aviation is qualified to do mountain and aquatic rescue, but is also involved within the construction and engineering industry and undertakes geological surveys for mining companies. Our service is new to the country: penetrating the market is therefore a cumbersome process but we are doing well and are starting to enter the tourism industry, which offers several opportunities. Sometimes we also fly VIP’s: We fly the president of Tanzania, the Royal family of Oman, Qatar, UAE and several celebrities.

How significant is the mining industry to the company’s overall business activities and how much has the business expanded since 2010?

Mining constitutes a major driving force of our business activities in the country, no doubt. We have 28 mining clients, amongst which Shanta Gold Limited, Mantra Resources Ltd., Canaco, African Barrick Gold, Bamboo Rock and Ruby Creek Resources, Inc. Apart from medical evacuation, we also do transfers for companies executives and survey work. Regarding business expansion, Whirlwind Aviation started with one helicopter. Between, December 2010 to June 2011 we probably did 50 or 60 hours of flying time; in the next six months this increased to around 450 hours. In the last two months we did 180 hours, and we now have a third helicopter being added to our fleet. At present, Whirlwind Aviation employs approximately 10 people and this number will increase going forward.

Can you expand on the size of your fleet and the services you offer?

At the moment, our fleet is made up of a five-seater Bell Jet Ranger, a seven-seater Bell 407 and a 10-seater twin engine that is currently working on another project. My dream for the next two years is to have dedicated air ambulances in five cities: Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Mwanza, Mbeya and Mtwara. These would cover the whole country and bring first-class aeromedical services within an hour of everywhere. Most managers in the mining industry have personally signed up to the Whirlwind Aviation membership scheme launched three months ago. By paying a monthly fee we offer aeromedical services to our members.

Airport transfers are a popular new service we recently added, reducing the journey time from an hour and a half to six minutes. With the lack of infrastructure in the country, firefighting is another area of opportunity. Whirlwind Aviation plans to dedicate two helicopters and one spotter plane, with ground support and crew, we also intend to start a training program for local people as a way of putting back into the community; in season they will move around between the forests. Whirlwind Aviation also won the anti-poaching tender with national parks across the country. We recently had a great success in apprehending 12 poachers. We are a business and businesses need to make money, but we also want to provide a service that will really make a difference.

Bamboo Rock has recently signed up to your scheme. How will Bamboo Rock benefit from this scheme and what geophysical equipment do you use during your surveys?

The problem is that their site is about six hours by car from the nearest airport. If something happens now, they can phone us and we will dispatch within 20 minutes; it still takes about four hours to get there, but we can go straight to their site. All our medical equipment is modern, approved by the oil and gas industry, with the latest technology. We have all our drugs onboard and can stabilize a patient during the flight. Most of my flying experience, and most of my paramedic’s experience, is in West African and Middle East warzones, so we are equipped and trained to handle serious trauma cases. Regarding the geophysical equipment used: we use LIDAR and a revolutionary system brought into the civilian market by a Russian company, Geo Vision. We also undertake simpler visual surveys.

How is the company financed and can you give us an indication of your fees?

Whirlwind Aviation was initially financed with personal investment, and the company started carrying itself after the first month. However, a big South African helicopter company is now interested in investing in Whirlwind Aviation. There are many requests and opportunities for expansion, that we actually need a substantial cash investment. I cannot sell my new ideas until I actually have the machines. Regarding fees, Whirlwind Aviation charges $1,600 per hour for the smaller helicopter, and $2,400 for the seven-seater. Helicopter rates in Africa are between two and three times more expensive than in South Africa, but this reflects the additional costs we face.

Do you have a final message for our readers?

Whirlwind Aviation has a flawless safety record and very good testimonials from all of our clients. We are here to stay, not to make a quick buck and leave. We are here to provide a safe and efficient service to our clients.

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