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HeliService has a fleet of three Leonardo AW169s. Lloyd Horgan Photo

HeliService USA launches offshore wind operations in New England

By Vertical Mag | October 17, 2023

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 59 seconds.

Offshore wind helicopter operations have officially commenced in North America with the launch of HeliService USA, a Rhode Island-based company dedicated to serving the rapidly growing offshore wind industry on the East Coast.

Consisting of five turbines with a tower height of 335 feet, the Block Island Wind Farm became the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S. in 2016. It has not had helicopter support until now. Lloyd Horgan Photo
Consisting of five turbines with a tower height of 335 feet, the Block Island Wind Farm became the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S. in 2016. It has not had helicopter support until now. Lloyd Horgan Photo

HeliService USA began commercial operations this summer with two Leonardo AW169 helicopters on long-term leases from LCI. A third AW169 arrived on Sept. 26, the same day the company performed its first hoisting trial at the Block Island Wind Farm off the Rhode Island coast.

According to HeliService USA founder and CEO Michael Tosi, the trial — conducted in partnership with the wind farm’s developer, Ørsted,and turbine manufacturer GE — was the first time a commercial helicopter conducted a hoist to an offshore wind turbine in North America.

HeliService USA selected the AW169 for its outstanding single-engine performance, which enables the safe completion of a hoisting operation even in the event of an engine failure. Lloyd Horgan Photo

HeliService USA is a veteran-owned small business that has partnered with Germany’s HeliService to represent its brand in the U.S. With more than 30 years of experience in commercial aviation, HeliService has developed world-leading expertise in offshore wind operations in Europe, where the industry is more established. In 2016, it became the first operator to acquire the AW169 for offshore use.

Tosi said the close relationship with HeliService has given his company a head start in developing safe, standardized procedures for offshore wind operations, while ensuring that customers like Ørsted enjoy consistent service on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Our goal was that for our customers on the service side, they don’t perceive anything different,” Tosi explained. With the HeliService brand, he said, “we bring the standards that folks are accustomed to.”

HeliService has a fleet of three Leonardo AW169s. Lloyd Horgan Photo
HeliService has a fleet of three Leonardo AW169s. Lloyd Horgan Photo

With several major wind farms now under construction in the U.S., HeliService USA is currently oriented toward facilitating crew changes on construction vessels. Tosi said that helicopters are faster and more fuel-efficient than vessels for crew changes.

As more wind turbines enter service, HeliService USA will support maintenance activities by hoisting technicians to and from the turbines. Since vessel access to the turbines is restricted in high sea states that are common during winter months, helicopters can greatly increase year-round access in addition to saving technicians hours of unproductive transit time.

According to HeliService USA, a hoisting trial it performed on Sept. 26 represented the first time a commercial helicopter had hoisted to an offshore wind turbine in North America. Lloyd Horgan Photo
According to HeliService USA, a hoisting trial it performed on Sept. 26 represented the first time a commercial helicopter had hoisted to an offshore wind turbine in North America. Lloyd Horgan Photo

The Sept. 26 trial opens the door to conducting helicopter hoist operations at the Block Island Wind Farm, which has been generating power since 2016 but supported exclusively by vessels until now. Lars Christian Munch, lead aviation specialist at Ørsted, the wind farm’s developer, said the trial was important for finalizing the risk assessments and internal procedures necessary for hoist operations to move forward.

In the meantime, he said, HeliService USA’s AW169s have been playing a crucial role in supporting construction of Ørsted’s latest projects. “We have enjoyed our operations with HeliService as a supplier, and they have delivered the service that we expected and that we need,” said Munch.

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