Australian Helicopters secures Rio Tinto transport contract

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Canadian Helicopters Group's subsidiary Helicopters Australia will operate three new AgustaWestland AW109SP GrandNew helicopters on marine transfer flights for resource company Rio Tinto in Western Australia from next March.

The three new helicopters, which will all be in service by the end of September, will replace two Eurocopter EC145s that currently provide passenger transportation to Rio Tinto's iron ore carriers at Dampier and Cape Lambert ports. The third helicopter will provide additional capacity for Rio Tinto's expansion plans at Cape Lambert. The EC145s will be redeployed or offered for sale.

Helicopters Australia has been providing the services from its base in Karratha, Western Australia, since 1992. The new 10-year contract starts on 1 May 2013, when the existing contract expires. Revenues from the new contract are expected to reach a minimum of A$125 million (US$130 million) - A$11 million more than the current contract, says parent company Canadian Helicopters Group.

Meanwhile, the Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ) Helicopter Rescue Service is upgrading its helicopters thanks to a 10-year sponsorship deal worth A$10 million from mining giant Rio Tinto. EMQ, which operates AgustaWestland 139s and Bell 412s from bases in Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns, conducts search and rescue and transfer missions, and saved hundreds of people during the Queensland floods of 2011.

The first A$1 million of the sponsorship is being used to upgrade the helicopters to enable them to carry an additional 400kg, which can be used for extra equipment, personnel or fuel, and to install an enhanced ground warning system. The Queensland state government funds the fleet's operating costs, although it is currently evaluating alternative arrangements.