LifeFlight building bright futures at one-of-a-kind chopper base

LifeFlight Australia boasts a reputation, as one of the country’s most-trusted aeromedical rescue organisations and the first step, in the journey to save a life, starts in a place few may realise.

A big unassuming hangar, at Archerfield Airport in Brisbane, is home to LifeFlight’s Heavy Maintenance base; this is where the company’s engineers work around the clock, to ensure every aircraft is ready to take flight, at a moment’s notice.

“Here at LifeFlight, we have a real culture and work hard at developing a good work culture,” Engineering Operations Manager Michael Dopking said.

“We very actively train our guys from day one and we’re grooming them up, to become managers.”

One element of the job, which LifeFlight Australia has committed to performing in-house, is the complete service or ‘pull-down’, of the organisation’s fleet of helicopters.

Pete De Marzi, Executive Manager of Engineering, explained the project sees a chopper dismantled, down to its shell.

“Every component, every nut, bolt and wire is checked and – if necessary – repaired or replaced.”

Three of LifeFlight’s Leonardo AW139 helicopters have undergone pull-downs this year.

The maintenance project happens when the machine reaches four years of service.

Due to the high volume of missions RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopters complete, this project coincided with the 2400 flying hours service of the chopper, registed as XIL.

“A lot of places don’t do their own 139s in house, they outsource it, but we’re one of the few that actually do it ourselves,” Mr Dopking said.

“Very few engineers get the opportunity to do this type of work, where you see them pull the whole thing down to nothing.”

The project takes around eight weeks and an estimated four thousand hours, to complete.

“Along the way, we set milestones for ourselves and while we aim to achieve those on time, the biggest thing is to make sure we do the job right and at a good quality,” Mr De Marzi said.

Services of this standard, can cost upward of $1 million.

Pete De Marzi said Leonardo, the chopper manufacturer, is already prepared for issues that may arise, as a result of wear and tear.

“Leonardo has structural repair manuals, so we go to the book first and if the specific repair is in there, we follow the book.

“If it’s not, we go through our technical services department, tell them the problem we have and they will come back with a specific repair for that aircraft.”

LifeFlight Australia has been recognised by Leonardo, as one of the most professional and expert Approved Maintenance Organisations in the world.

LifeFlight’s Heavy Maintenance Manager oversees the project, giving guidance to at least four airframe engineers and one avionics engineer.

Mr Dopking – affectionately known as ‘Dopo’ – said the four-yearly service gives staff, including apprentice and career engineers, a chance to get involved in the nitty-gritty.

“Right down to the point of pulling transmission out and then reassemble the whole aircraft, then take the whole thing out and get it test flown,” he said.

In an effort to limit human contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, engineering staff were split into teams and even re-deployed to other bases, but Dopo said the workflow was never interrupted.

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue’s fleet is made up of ten helicopters (5 AW139s, 3 Bell412s, 1 BK117 and 1 AS350) and four Bombardier Challenger 604 fixed wing aircraft.

“We are keen to make sure everyone knows everything, to the point where we rotate our engineers from the heavy maintenance base, out to our other bases – across Queensland – so that they get a taste of what to expect beyond the line and understand the contract,” Mr De Marzi said.

“The opportunities and experience we offer our guys, are far superior to anything available elsewhere.”