Honeymooners, nature enthusiasts, thrill seekers . . . The raw beauty of Niagara Falls – a series of three immense waterfalls straddling the Canada-United States border – has been drawing its share of visitors for centuries. In recent decades, visits above the falls have gained in popularity, as helicopter tours take sightseers swooping as low as 1900 feet AGL over the iconic Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veils falls.
“Up in the air, you see rainbows flashing in and out in seven different directions. You feel like you’re looking in on a secret,” says Anna Pierce, Vice President and General Manager of Niagara Helicopters, which has been operating flightseeing tours at the Falls for fifty years. On June 2, the tour operator celebrated its acquisition of four H130 (formerly EC130 T2) helicopters, which are set to enter service during the site’s busiest time of the year.
The decision to go with the H130, says Pierce, was three-fold. Of prime importance was the security provided by the helicopter’s signature Fenestron® tail rotor, a necessary precaution for an operator that averages 600 passengers a day in summer. The tail rotor’s shrouded design enhances safety for passengers and ground personnel in the rotorcraft’s vicinity.
It also contributes to the H130’s very low external sound level, a second factor in Niagara Helicopters’ choice. “We’re close to the city center so we try to avoid those noise-sensitive areas,” says Pierce. “But at some point we had to look at something a little quieter, which the H130 really is.” With a noise signature 7 dB below requirements, passengers benefit from a quieter ride as well, a third point in the H130’s favor. According to Pierce, “We wanted to improve the customer experience. In the H130s we have three front seats plus four in the back, and the passenger experience is just incredible. It’s such a panoramic view—you can’t get better.”
Operations can be fraught with challenges, in an airspace restricted to just two nautical miles around Niagara and crossing into both Canadian and U.S. jurisdiction. Besides its morning-to-night sightseeing schedule, Niagara Helicopters assists the High Angle Rescue Team – the Niagara Parks’ police – to airlift hikers and fishermen stranded in the gorges when water levels rise.
Challenge or no, the region’s beauty gives pilots excuse to fly scenic climbing turns over the Canadian falls. With its Turbomeca Arriel 2D engine offering 10 percent more average power and a lower fuel consumption, the H130 responds to the operator’s need for efficiency. The helicopter’s use of composite materials and its technical maturity inherent as a member of Airbus Helicopters’ Ecureuil family contribute to reduced maintenance costs and a high availability rate—a key point when a typical helicopter logs up to 600 hours a year. Having access to local technical support through nearby Airbus Helicopters Canada completed Ms. Pierce’s roster of compliments. “From everything we’ve seen, it looks like it’s going to be a really great machine for us to run.”