Karen Walker/ATLANTA

PETROLEUM Helicopters (PHI), the world's largest commercial helicopter operator, will provide the short-haul transport service in Atlanta, Georgia, when the city hosts the Olympic Games in the middle of this year.

PHI, based in LaFayette, Louisiana, and which has a fleet of 265 helicopters, is thought to have won the contract following strong competition from at least four other bidders. It is believed that the company will use a mix of Bell 412s and Eurocopter BO.105s for the Olympic operation. The deal, was expected to be announced formally, with details on 23 February.

The Atlanta Short-Haul Transportation Systems (ASTS) will use the global-positioning system (GPS) and datalinks to allow up to 50 helicopters to fly between designated landing sites in and around Atlanta during the Olympics. They will be used to deliver priority mail and packages as well as, possibly, VIP passengers.

Initial tests of the system, using a single helicopter, have revealed no technological barriers. The service, is expected to be viewed, as a pioneer GPS-based transportation system, as well as a vital means of relaying important cargo and documents speedily, despite the heavy traffic congestion anticipated.

Plans are being made to maintain the ASTS after the Games. The city council of Roswell, a northern suburb of Atlanta, has identified some key sites, which it would like to see developed as heliports for a commuter helicopter-transportation system feeding into Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport and neighbouring cities, such as Chattanooga.

The ASTS project is a joint effort by the US Federal Aviation Administration, the Helicopter Association International, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta law-enforcement agencies and NASA.

Source: Flight International