Owning and operating a helicopter service company — whether a large corporation or independently owned — is a unique challenge in today’s environment.
For some time, I have wanted to profile any of the companies that operate in the Gulf of Mexico. As you are aware, there are some large ones. There are also smaller ones that have seen success in this highly competitive industry. Westwind Helicopters, Inc. is certainly not a mom-and-pop operation, but it’s not an industry giant either.
Robert M. McCoy is the president and COO of Westwind Helicopters. The 56-year-old dynamo got his start in life in the south Texas town of Refugio, about 40 mi north of Corpus Christi. At age 5, he had his first visit to the local airport and became hooked on aviation. McCoy earned his private fixed-wing certificate at 17, and shortly thereafter he earned a commercial pilot certificate.
Having grown up working as a cowhand on a large ranch that used helicopters for its operations, he decided it was time to get away from the cacti, dust and rattlesnakes and head to a better-paying job as a roustabout on an offshore production platform in the Gulf. Still fascinated with helicopters, McCoy saved enough money to buy one. He purchased a run-out, 33-year-old, Bell Helicopter 47G he found for sale and hauled it back to Refugio, moving him into the helicopter business.
McCoy and a friend who was a helicopter mechanic worked hard to get the helicopter airworthy. He spent his time off from his job often sleeping in his truck to save time and energy. The helicopter became airworthy a year later. After obtaining his add-on helicopter rating in 1986, he then received an A&P mechanic license.
McCoy performed various work with his Bell, like game management and giving rides. In 2007, he decided to leave his employer of 25 years and start his own business — an offshore oil field contracting service with helicopter transport.
In 2008, he purchased Westwind, which was up for sale in California. With a Bell 206B, the company had FAA Part 135, 133 and 137 certificates.
McCoy moved the operation to Rockport, Texas. Not before long, Westwind obtained an offshore contract for the Bell 505 Jet Ranger due to the many contacts he had made during his time working in the oil patch. By this time, he had augmented his small operation with a then-Hughes 500C for the burgeoning onshore business (consisting of game management, wild hog control and powerline and pipeline inspections).
By 2010, the company had moved to a newly established base in Santa Fe, Texas, between Galveston and Houston. With the move came the beginning of expansion that has led to the company’s current fleet of helicopters. Westwind now operates nine 206L-3s and L-4s, two 206Bs, 14 Bell 407s, one Hughes 500C and two Sikorsky S-76s. This fleet is staffed with 38 pilots and 22 maintenance technicians.
All field maintenance is done in house, and overhauls are sent to specialists. Pilot training is conducted in house, with the S-76 crews doing simulator training at FlightSafety International.
Offshore helicopter customer support contracts often require that the support aircraft be based as close as possible to the customers at points along the Gulf. This saves them flight billing time and makes it easier to deliver personnel and supplies to the land and offshore sites. Westwind has several “out bases,” but also uses a few airports close to the customer’s requirements.
Through skilled management and perseverance, McCoy has built a solid business structure without having to take on partners or diversify his ownership. As with any business, there are some problems. Working with the local FAA Flight Standards District Offices can be tedious in completing paperwork. Delays can affect getting aircraft out on contract in a reasonable amount of time.
Working with the fixed-based operator is another aggravation. One pitfall for a smaller company operating among giants is the constant battle for recognition. McCoy’s competent management and continued growth is proof that it can succeed. R&WI