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Airlift wins defense contract

John Seelmeyer

Justin Seyferth couldn’t be happier that his company won a good-sized defense contract that came out of the blue.

On the other hand, Seyferth now finds himself facing a big question: Is it time to make the big investment to purchase another helicopter for his Reno-based Airlift Helicopters Inc.? The question takes on some urgency after Airlift won a $1.1 million job with British Aerospace Systems, which is working in New Hampshire to develop battlefield mapping for the U.S.

Department of Defense.

For the next year and a half, four employees of Airlift will be spending much of their time flying tests for British Aerospace Systems.

For a small company five employees, three helicopters that already has its plate full, that’s a lot of work.

And Airlift Helicopters hadn’t chased the contract.

“They called us,” says Seyferth, the president and director of operations for the company based at Reno- Tahoe International Airport.

Apparently, he says, the reputation developed by his company while it handled a job at the Nevada Test Site brought an unsolicited recommendation from defense officials.

The company specializes in external load work, flying Hughes 500 helicopters that can lift up to 1,200 pounds.

Seyferth and his team have set telephone poles in remote locations.

Searched for wreckage from the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Toted supplies for avalanche guns to remote locations.

Battled fires.

Flown precise routes to gather magnetic information for oil and minerals exploration.

Launched in 2000 by Seyferth, a veteran helicopter pilot in Alaska, Central America and South America, Airlift Helicopters has grown quickly ever since and stayed profitable since its second year in business.

The challenges these days are two-fold, Seyferth says.

First is the price of fuel, which has gone from $1.40 to $2.43 a gallon.

That’s a big consideration for machines that burn 28 gallons an hour, but Seyferth says the company has been able to recover the higher costs in its prices.

The spike in fuel prices comes after the company was rattled by the sharp increase in insurance premiums that followed the Sept.

11 attacks.

The second challenge, he says, is finding qualified workers to staff the company’s growth especially because they need to combine impeccable technical credentials with good customerservice skills.

Those customerservice skills, Seyferth says, give the company an edge when he’s knocking on the doors of potential clients.

The company’s Hughes 500 helicopters may be faster and more costefficient than competitive craft, he says, but customers are most concerned about seeing their job done right and on time.

While Airlift Helicopters has handled a handful of jobs in Reno it lifted much of the mechanical system to the top of the Promenade on the River senior community, for instance Seyferth says most of its work is in California,Utah, and elsewhere through the West.

This summer, for instance, one of the company’s helicopters will be conducting seismic research in Alaska, a job that will take it north of the Arctic Circle.


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