Sunday, September 3, 2017

Seacoast Helicopters soars to new heights

PORTSMOUTH — Five years ago, Seacoast Helicopters began its business at Pease International Tradeport with one red helicopter.

The company endured the summer of 2015 when some residents complained repeatedly about its tours over the downtown and the City Council held meetings to discuss what it could do about the company.

Eventually, the City Council realized Seacoast Helicopters was an allowed use at Portsmouth International Airport at Pease and focused its attention on other things.

The Pease Development Authority still gets complaints about the helicopters, but they usually come from just a few people.

Meanwhile, Bruce Cultrera, president and chief executive officer of Seacoast Helicopters, said the company has continued to grow, adding staff, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

“When I first started the company I did everything,” Cultrera said this week as people filed in and out of its Pease location to take one of its tours.

Seacoast Helicopters has five red helicopters now and three fixed-wing airplanes and its planning to move to a new, larger facility near the former Pan Am hangar next spring, Cultrera said.

“We still get a phone call or somebody that’s upset with us, but generally it’s gone away,” Cultrera said of complaints. “I think there’s been general acceptance of what we’re doing.”

Cultrera said Seacoast Helicopters is not unlike any small company that’s fighting to grow.

“This company and all the trials and tribulations we went through, although specific to this industry and this business, are similar to the trials and tribulations that every small company goes through,” he said.

His vision for the company is when anyone thinks about the aviation industry in New England, “they’ll know we’re the helicopter place with the red helicopters.”

He laughs when asked about his red helicopters.

“It’s kind of funny. People say, ‘Why did you choose red?’ It’s because the first one I bought was red. If the first one I bought was blue, we’d be the blue helicopter company,” Cultrera said. “I know the importance of that now. So every helicopter we have is going to be red. Branding is huge.”

As he often has done, Cultrera stressed the tours Seacoast Helicopters conducts at Pease, which is about one-third of his business, help promote Portsmouth.

“I can’t tell you how many times our pilots are asked by people, ‘Where’s a good place to eat in Portsmouth?’ or ‘What’s fun to do in Portsmouth?’ and we tell them,” he said. “We’re always promoting Portsmouth.”

Valerie Rochon, chief collaborator of the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, said she considers Seacoast Helicopters “one of our great marketing partners.”

“They are always selling the Seacoast area,” she said this week.

Asked about the controversy the company dealt with previously, Rochon said, “I think any change or anything new sometimes causes people to be uncomfortable. I know there were many complaints from a small number of individuals.”

She believes Seacoast Helicopters will continue to help Portsmouth tourism.

“The helicopter goes over my house all weekend long and I wave and I hope they’re waving back,” she said.

Seacoast Helicopters has been involved in a partnership with Great Bay Community College training students to be pilots. It has had a number of recent graduates and the program will continue until 2019, Cultrera said.

Cultrera and Matt Hall, a Seacoast Helicopters pilot and U.S. Army veteran, said they are looking for new opportunities.

“We’re very ambitious here, we want to continue to grow the program,” Hall said. “And part of the reason for that is a growing program employs many of the people who graduated from it and offers employment opportunities for others.”

“We want to continue the path we’re on for good, solid growth,” he said.

Flying tours represent about 35 percent of the company’s business, followed by 35 percent for charters and the rest for doing utility work, Cultrera said.

“We do a lot of support work for the government, which we classify as utility work, which includes carrying equipment by helicopter and taking it to remote areas,” he said. “Anything that has to do with work that involves using the helicopter as a tool.”

Hall said much of that work is done in Maine.

“There’s a lot of equipment that nobody ever sees on mountaintops,” he said. “You wouldn’t really notice it was there unless you hiked all the way up the mountain.”

It offers another important way for the company to grow its business.

“Someone has to maintain that equipment and replace the broken pieces, and someone has to bring all those guys up there to do it,” he said. “Hiking up there in many cases would be an entire day’s process.”

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