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Hope’s Valley Helicopters Ltd. owns first commercially operated Bell 429 in Canada

Helicopter flies through 7 countries in order to reach Canada

After nine years of hard work Hope’s Valley Helicopters Ltd. (VH) are the proud owners of the only commercially operated Bell 429 helicopter in Canada.

“We’re happy we’re able to use it and we want to use it more,” said Brad Fandrich, the president of VH. “It’s a relief (to have it) but there’s apprehension because this is a business move. It’s not just a toy, it’s for work. And we’re happy with how it worked out last summer.

The helicopter’s arrival in Hope was the result of a nearly decade long dream that first started when Fandrich and his wife, Brittany Fandrich, visited Florida and attended a helicopter conference. While there, Fandrich saw a 429 for the first time and expressed interest in eventually owning one. However, he had no expectations that he could ever justify owning one as an operator.

“I told (Brittany) that ‘I think those are really neat helicopters.’ But it was one of those things where we had no use for one,” Fandrich said. “But it was something that, like every idea, it has to start somewhere. And then over the years, I watched how these 429s’ were being utilized around the world.

“I started looking at what these other operators are doing and thought we can figure this out in Canada. Over time, I was always watching out for 429s’ and watching for opportunities within our customer base. And I’ve been watching the aircraft develop (to see what) different types of kits (will be put) on them.”

The Bell 429 is a light, twin-engine helicopter that is developed by Bell Helicopter and Korea Aerospace Industries. It is a multipurpose utility helicopter that was originally created to address the needs of the emergency medical services industry.

Additionally, the aircraft’s modern and powerful twin-engine system allows it to still hover in the air if one of the engines stops working. This makes it invaluable for emergency situations and weather events.

As of 2024, the helicopter has been used by police forces, air medical teams, powerline construction companies, search and rescue, and militaries around the world. In fact, the Canadian Coast Guards currently owns and uses nine 429 helicopters.

In operation for over 30 years, VH is, according to their website, a “charter helicopter operator providing services in Western Canada, with bases in Hope, Merritt, and Kamloops.” The company was founded in Hope by Fandrich’s father, Fred Fandrich, and provides services to both the public and government, with specialization in supporting “mountaintop and powerline construction, aerial survey, passenger transport, forest fire support, search and rescue, and specialty lift work.”

This includes working with clients such as BC Wildfire Service, Trans Mountain, and Hope Search and Rescue. Their work has also taken them out of B.C. and across Canada, to places as far away as the Arctic Circle.

Fandrich, who previously worked as a helicopter mechanic and then a pilot, took over as the president of VH 10 years ago.

He said that, over the past decade, the need for a twin-engine helicopter became greater in Canada, mainly through the pipeline construction, search and rescue, air ambulances, and wildfire support.

The use of twin-engine helicopters also became crucial with regards to landing helicopters at hospital helipads; due to their proximity to busy public areas (such as schools, parks, and general city traffic), helicopters aren’t allowed to land at many of the major hospitals in B.C. (like BC Children’s General Hospital and the Royal Columbian Hospital) unless they have modern twin-engines.

For VH, Frandrich said that purchasing the helicopter became more justifiable as more opportunities to work with clients popped up. It also started looking more affordable as “simpler” versions of the helicopter started being available.

As such, when Fandrich got the opportunity to buy a used Bell 429 from Istanbul, Türkiye, at half the cost, he knew he couldn’t pass it up.

“We worked with an aircraft broker, that we bought a few aircrafts with before, and he put us on this one in (Türkiye),” Fandrich said. “It was doing air ambulance work in (Türkiye). So, it was already configured almost exactly how we would have liked it. There were just a few things we had to do to it.”

According to Fandrich it took them seven months — from late 2022 to early 2023 — to purchase it and then bring it back to Canada. As such, they were only able to fully operate it in the summer 2023.

Part of this, he said, had to do with cultural differences, international law, and how slow transactions can take in the aviation world.

The other part, he said, had to do with the logistics of actually transporting the helicopter from Istanbul to B.C.

Because Türkiye is neutral when it comes to the war between Russia and Ukraine, flights coming directly in and out of Russia can only pass through certain airports. Which means they can only travel with certain airlines. One of these airlines is Turkish Airlines which makes all its flights stop/pass through Istanbul Airport. Because of this, the airport is incredibly busy which would affect transporting the helicopter.

Fandrich was also informed that, if he chose to transport the helicopter via ship, his insurance companies would not insure it. This is due to it being high risk, for insurance companies, because of the amount of “unfortunate losses” that have happened to ships and their cargo.

After speaking with an expert who specializes in shipping helicopters, Fandrich was given the option to dissemble the helicopter, bring its parts to Luxembourg, and it have air freighted, on a 747 Freighter, to Abbotsford.

“In Europe, there’s not a lot of helicopter service centers. But there was one in Germany,” Fandrich said. “So we decided to fly the helicopter from (Türkiye) to Germany.”

He was also recommend to, because of Turkey’s relationships with other countries, to put war risk insurance on the helicopter while transporting it.

“If a neighbouring country saw a Turkish registered aircraft land inside its borders, they (insurance company) were concerned that it could be seized for a variety of reasons,” Fandrich said. “We decided to Canadian register the helicopter there (in Türkiye). Thankfully, through friends in the industry, we knew the person to give us that piece of paperwork.”

“We flew a 429 mechanic, who is a good friend of mine, over there. He did the inspection, then the Transport Canada delegate sent us the paperwork and had it stamped off. And we put a Canadian registration on the helicopter in Turkey.”

Now with Canadian registration, Fandrich said he, along with the pilot and mechanic he brought with him, put the helicopter on a truck and drove it to Ankara, Türkiye. From there, they flew the helicopter through seven countries before finally reaching Germany.

The experience of flying to Germany, Fandrich said, was fun as many of the airports they landed at weren’t expecting to see a Canadian registered aircraft in European air space.

Once the helicopter reached Germany, it was taken apart and then brought to Luxembourg. From there, it was freighted by air to Abbotsford.

“We arrived in Abbotsford and put it back together and did a bunch of work on it. And then operated it last summer,” Frandrich said.

The 429 arrived back at VH’s hangar a couple of weeks ago after getting some finishing touches over the winter.

Thanks to their purchase, the 429 will be available for commercial use in Canada and can potentially be used by clients that include, but aren’t limited to: BC Hydro, Trans Mountain, search and rescue, ambulance services, powerline construction, and BC Wildfire Services.

“Now we’re sort of getting through some of the hoops that some of the clients require because they all have aviation standards,” Fandrich said. “And they have external auditors that will come in and check that we’re doing things how they want to see done.”

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Kemone Moodley

About the Author: Kemone Moodley

I began working with the Hope Standard on August 2022.
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