It is only a matter of time before Haverfield Aviation Inc. expands to the West Coast, said Brian Parker, executive vice president.
For now, the rapidly growing company — which performs delicate power line inspections and maintenance — is focusing on three new regional hubs that opened Oct. 1 in Denton, Texas; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Valdosta, Ga. The hubs represent the company's first expansion beyond its Cumberland Township home.
With 25 helicopters and about 180 employees, Haverfield was becoming too big to run from one location, Parker said.
"We have a footprint all over the United States," said Parker, who joined Haverfield as a pilot in 1987. "Even though the aircraft are all over the place, we wanted a regional presence."
Haverfield has grown steadily since it began exploring helicopter applications to the power line industry 27 years ago. A former Army pilot, Parker was among the first to take to the air in helicopters that hover near power lines while workers do inspections or make repairs.
Haverfield was among the first companies to perfect platform technology, Parker said, which enables workers tethered to a hovering helicopter to stand outside it and work on power lines.
Previously, power lines were taken out of service for that work. However, the demand for power is so great it forced the industry to look for creative ways to work on the lines without disrupting power.
"This kind of revolutionized how you look at power lines and how you maintain power lines," Parker said. "We built our business on fixing disruptions on the power lines."
Given that the services being offered were relatively new, Haverfield looked for ways to adapt the tools and technology to the work. For example, its "aerial side-trimmer saw" is mounted to the helicopter and powered by a compact fuel-injected engine. It can side trim a 20-foot path in one pass.
As the years went by, Haverfield continued to develop new ways its helicopter pilots could be of service to utility companies and municipalities. Operations were divided into two main categories: inspection/maintenance and upgrade/replace.
The ease of access provided by the helicopters opened the door to many new opportunities, such as tree trimming and even storm cleanup. Lately, Haverfield has been contracting with construction companies to help install new power lines.
"We work for large construction companies who build new power lines or rebuild existing power lines," Parker said. "The utilities don't build their own power lines anymore. It's almost entirely outsourced now."
Parker helped develop many of those new services over the years, as he transitioned from pilot in the field to vice president in an office. He is proudest of Haverfield's industry reputation for solving unforeseen problems.
For example, Haverfield was called on to tackle the problem of ice that formed on power lines crossing the Hudson River. The company came up with the method to attach pendulum weights to the lines to keep them ice-free, Parker said. The weights slide along the lines, keeping the water from freezing to ice.
Haverfield's steady growth was interrupted briefly by the economic slowdown, said Christine Cassell, chief financial officer. Around 2009-10, the company noticed utility companies were backing off major renovation projects.
"The utility customer was generating less revenue, so they had less to spend on their assets," Cassell said. "We were very fortunate that we weren't hit as hard as some other industries."
Still, putting off power line upgrades does not mean the work goes away. Trees will continue to grow up around power lines, and storms are always a threat.
In other words, Haverfield is in pretty stable demand, regardless of the economy.
"Certainly the investment in new power lines is happening all over the country," Parker said. "I don't think it's an option anymore. The utilities are investing and fixing things."
The blackout of 2003 reminded millions of people how important power transmission is, Cassell said. The widespread power outage Aug. 14 of that year left about 55 million residents in eight U.S. states and Ontario in the dark for as long as two days.
"All of these utilities are required to meet reliability measures," Cassell said. "They're getting pressure from multiple points to get this work done and get it done efficiently."
Haverfield has worked with every major utility provider in the United States, Parker said. Sometimes it's regular inspection and maintenance; other times, it's major storm assistance. During Hurricane Sandy, Haverfield assisted PPL Electric Utilities with the latter.
In a November 2012 letter, PPL President Greg Dudkin praised Haverfield pilots for their "significant contribution to a historic storm recovery effort." Haverfield crews were part of a joint cleanup effort that lasted for a week after Sandy, Dudkin said.
So far, nearly four months after the three hubs opened, Parker said, all three have at least four active projects. Combine that business with the time the employees get to spend at home and saved fuel and travel costs, and more expansion is likely, he said.
"We will have a base out West," he said. "It's just a matter of where we want it and what our timeline is."