Ecocopter: Coloring the sky

Flying in aircraft with livery as varied as the wide-ranging terrain underneath, Chilean operator Ecocopter has made quite the impact in the skies above its South American homeland.

The distinctive designs, created to promote a branch of science or landmark of scientific reasoning, reflect the love company owner Eduardo Ergas has for spreading scientific knowledge. The liveries have included a tribute to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, various sea creatures in celebration of marine biology, planets in a solar system, dinosaurs, chemical compounds, and several tributes to Leonardo da Vinci, including his Vitruvian Man and Aerial Screw.

A businessman with a keen involvement in scientific foundations, Ergas established Ecocopter at the tail end of 2003, and started operations early the following year with the first EC130 in South America.

Ergas bought that first helicopter primarily for private use, but also wanted to explore opportunities for it commercially.

The original plan was to target tourism work, with one of Ecocopter’s first explorations into commercial operations — in partnership with an American tour company — being a bungee jump from the helicopter over the open crater of a volcano in Patagonia, in the south of Chile.

However, it quickly became apparent that there were greater opportunities for work in the mining sector, where the EC130 represented a leap in technology over the older types then in use.

“We were still trying to push the tourism business, but we always got better results in the industrial business,” said Francisco Diaz, the company’s operations manager. Diaz was the second pilot to join the company, following a career in the Chilean air force, in April 2004.

Over the following 16 years, mining has remained the backbone of Ecocopter’s work, even as it has grown in size and geographic focus.

Today, Ecocopter’s fleet of 13 aircraft — a mixture of leased and owned aircraft — includes 10 AS350 Bs and H125s, two EC135 T2s, and one H145. Its headquarters are in Santiago, which serves as the epicenter of its operations. A base in Punta Arenas in Chile’s far south houses two Airbus EC135s, which are used for transport flights to offshore oil-and-gas facilities. Bases in Peru (bordering Chile to the north) and Ecuador (to the north of Peru) have expanded Ecocopter’s operations from national to continental.

Geographic opportunities

Occupying a long strip of land on the western edge of the continent, Chile is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on its west, and the imposing Andes mountain range along much of its east. Just 220 miles (350 kilometers) across at its widest point, the country stretches 2,650 miles (4,720 km) north to south, crossing the most varied landscape imaginable. In the north lies the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. Santiago, the country’s capital and most populous city, sits in its center, with the Andes providing a spectacular backdrop. Further south lie Valdivian temperate rainforests, while the Patagonia region at the country’s southernmost tip contains glacial fjords, snow-capped volcanos, and a spectacular island-dotted coastline. The next stop south is Antarctica, and many trips to the world’s most remote continent begin here.