During March 2020, as the global Covid-19 pandemic began building momentum and South Africa went into Level 5 Lock-down, BAC Helicopters was requested by an NGO to send two Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger helicopters to Kenya to carry out an Emergency Desert Locust Survey. East Africa has recently been plagued by a Desert Locust invasion, wreaking havoc to food security in the region.
With the uncertainty brought about by the virus, as well as related travel restrictions, particularly cross border travel, planning for the challenging ferry of the two helicopters from South Africa to Kenya began immediately. The routing saw the two helicopters traverse through four foreign airspaces before landing in Kenya, which required significant logistical planning. The Humanitarian Aid nature of the mission helped to motivate the necessity of the trip at a time when most countries wherein a lock-down state of emergency.
The helicopters eventually departed the BAC base at Ballito in mid-May, having obtained all the necessary permits from the relevant authorities’ en-route. The crew consisted of a pilot and engineer per helicopter; they were required to serve a mandatory quarantine period upon arrival in Nairobi before the survey operations could begin.
The helicopters were tasked with surveying vast areas throughout the Marsabit and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya, locating and mapping the locust swarms. The 206L-4’s were each equipped with specialized Agricultural Survey Equipment, an FDC Barrier Filter and Satellite Tracking System. Essential data gathered by the survey helicopters were then transferred to spraying aircraft, allowing them to accurately target specific areas where the locust swarms were present.
The helicopters operated at relatively high payloads and ambient temperatures of close to 40° Celsius, often in very windy conditions. The BAC Helicopters crew and its client in Kenya were extremely impressed by the performance of the Bell 206L-4 helicopters in carrying out this humanitarian aid task under challenging conditions and in such a remote location.
During early July, BAC Helicopters deployed the third helicopter to Kenya in support of the Desert Locust operations; an Airbus AS350-B2 equipped with a spray kit. This helicopter joined the two Long Ranger’s to enhance the operation by introducing spraying capabilities. Pest control spraying by helicopter has never been carried out in Kenya before, with BAC Helicopters being the first operator to demonstrate this to the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture.
“In assessing our utility operations and potential future contract requirements, we felt the 206L-4 presented the most versatile and cost-effective option in this single-engine category,” said Tremayne Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of BAC Helicopters. “The proven capability of the 206L-4 operating in diverse applications such as vertical reference, passenger charter, fire-fighting, aerial spraying and survey allows us the flexibility to meet our clients’ requirements in terms of performance and reliability,”
“The COVID-19 related travel restrictions throughout Africa proved challenging in every respect when it came to contract planning,” said Ashley Bell, Chief Operations Officer of BAC Helicopters. “Operating across borders in Africa can be challenging at the best of times when it comes to logistics and crew management, but an unprecedented global lock-down took it to a whole new level. Fortunately, our Bell 206L-4 fleet and specialized operational capabilities ensured we were able to meet the stringent contract requirements.”