THE ROTARY CLUB
ONBOARD talks to Nigel Watson about his experience over the past 35 years of working with VVIPs, superyachts and the world of helicopter operations.
I have been in command roles in the luxury yachting and aviation industries for over 35 years — initially as part of the Golden Fleet, then for the last 22 years founding and managing HeliRiviera and Luviair. We provide a range of services in VVIP helicopter operations, specialising in those embarked on superyachts.
This overseeing of VVIP operations with seaplanes and helicopters has led to my famed Expressions. Anyone who has worked with me will have heard at least one of these before. I have chosen to share with you a few of them below.
YACHT CHOICE, DESIGN & BUILD
“Yachts last longer than helicopters, so build it for the helicopter of tomorrow”
When owners begin to look for a new vessel — whether purchasing an existing one, or beginning a new build — I urge them not to choose a yacht that meets their needs today, but rather to anticipate what they may want in the future. The lifecycle of yacht ownership is longer than that of helicopter ownership, so one vessel may see multiple aircraft landing on its deck over the course of its lifespan. Helicopters become bigger, more capable, and heavier.
Owners must anticipate the helideck dimensions, storage, equipment and safety facilities for normal and emergency operations. The helideck should be big enough, strong enough and optimally placed on the vessel to be able to safely accommodate the largest model of helicopter that the owner may wish to operate — keeping in mind that the helicopter in question may not have been designed yet! There are published standards for a reason. Follow them.
HELICOPTER CHOICE & UTILISATION
“There is no such thing as a bad helicopter, but it may not be the right one for you.”
The key with helicopter choice is understanding the mission profile now and considering what it may become in the future. A good starting point is looking at what models are currently popular, but peer group pressure may lead to a misinformed choice. It is crucial to seek the opinion of a professional to confirm that the aircraft fits the owner’s mission profile. ‘Try before you buy’ applies to helicopters as well. Although VIP helicopters are not easy to lease for short periods of time, building relationships with reliable charter operators will help owners determine whether the perceived need matches actual utilisation.
HELICOPTER BUILD & DELIVERY
“The day of delivery should be for flying and sipping champagne, not unrealised expectations.”
The purchase of an aircraft can be complex, especially with factory deliveries. Helicopters come with a broad range of operational equipment beyond the basic airframe and engines — mission-specific equipment, airframe modifications, interior and exterior design schemes, to name a few. One should also keep in mind that one day it may be sold; some decisions, though not of immediate use to the owner may be crucial in optimising resale value. For best results engage with an industry professional that is not the manufacturer. Continuously following the build, understand the stages of production, and preparing for the day of delivery will help avoid any surprises on the day; and ensure it is a smooth and enjoyable process for all involved.