The guides at HHA are all well trained with extensive avalanche control backgrounds. Snow profiles are recorded regularly and guides continually re-appraise the condition of the snow. HHA has been operating in the area since 1990. As a result, we have accumulated an extensive amount of experience of the terrain and of historical weather and snow pack patterns that stands with us in good stead.
Helicopter travel in the mountains is relatively one of the more risky areas of aviation. This said, there are many companies who have never had an accident.
Most accidents in the mountains are due in part to loss of reference from flat light conditions. In the Himalayas we are blessed with an exceptionally sunny weather pattern. To be sure, there are plenty of storms. Nevertheless there are a lot more days when the weather is fine and sunny. A comparison with the weather of mid-winter Canada would be unfair to Canada. All the landings are given liberal doses of coloured powder to improve reference on overcast days.
- (i) Pilots and Engineers.
Our pilots are the most experienced we can find, and are the best in their field. They come from Switzerland and New Zealand. Our engineers come from Canada and Switzerland with further support from our local Indian engineers. Our Indian engineering staff bring a wealth of local knowledge to the operation and we think that the combination makes for a very powerful team.
- (ii) Helicopter Type.
The helicopters we use are either Bell 407s and/or AS350 B3 These are the most powerful helicopters in their size class and are good performers at altitude
- (iii) Fuel supplies
Fuel is supplied by the Indian Oil Corporation depot at Bhuntar Airport. The fuel is filtered out of tankers at the depot and into our truck. From our truck it is filtered into our storage facility. It then stands still for 48 hours and is finally filtered out of the store into the helicopters. It is thus filtered a minimum of three times before it enters the helicopter. Years of experience have refined our fuel handling system. It is very well adapted to our situation.
- (iv) Weather.
Helicopter flight in the mountains will always primarily be a matter of pilot judgement and skill. Our operational structure provides the pilot with all possible incentives to cancel a day of skiing if he feels the conditions are not suitable. This seems to be the most effective means to improve safety. We reduced our guaranteed vertical in order to ensure that neither the guides nor the pilots feel that it might be worthwhile staying out on the mountain for "just one more run" when conditions are deteriorating.
Most accidents are due to skiers skiing outside their level of ability. At HHA we are able to group guests appropriately because we have very small group sizes. This means that no-one needs to feel pushed beyond their limits.
- (i) Hospitals
In addition to the primary concern of preventing accidents we have made arrangements for accident victims to be treated in the most effective manner possible. Manali is serviced by a government hospital and a "Mission" hospital. The Mission hospital is staffed by an extremely dedicated and capable team of doctors. Manali is accessible from most of our ski terrain in about 10 to 15 minutes' flight (maximum 20 minutes). This is closer to medical facililties than most helicopter skiing operations. Serious cases will be sent to Delhi where we contract with the East West Medical Centre who specialise in medical evacuations. In New Delhi acute cases would be sent to the Apollo Hospital. New Delhi is approximately three hours away by helicopter.
- (ii) Equipment Caches
Throughout our operating area we have remote caches of equipment. These are to guard against the possibility of bad weather preventing a helicopter withdrawal from any given area.