Heli-Hire on the up
David got his helicopter licence straight out of school with his father and quickly saw a gap in the Rotorua market for an agricultural spraying service. That was 17 years ago. While much of Heli-Hire’s work is still the agricultural niche they started with – spraying, top-dressing and forestry – they’ve also taken on a greater variety of jobs.
“We’ve built up a block of loyal customers in our core ag and forestry work,” says David. “We also do a bit of charter work – mostly hunters and fishermen looking to get deep into the bush – some flight training, and a bit of aerial lifting.
“We’re lucky to have such a broad range of clients. We might be dropping fert in the morning, then dropping a couple of hunters into remote spots in the afternoon.”
Having started small and grown gradually, working with contractors and used gear, Heli-Hire now relies on a range of specialised equipment and six full-time staff.
“We have five helicopters, three eight-wheel trucks, a six-wheeler, fertiliser spreaders and fertiliser loaders. We’ve got seven employees, working from Bay of Plenty and Waikato.”
David says truck reliability is as critical in his line of work as in any other, with all the dots needing to join up to avoid having expensive gear sitting around doing nothing.
“The weather plays a huge part in what we do. Some days we can only work two to three hours, then we might be stuck on the ground for the rest of the day. When the weather is right, we’ve got to keep working.
“If you’re also relying on contractors who might not turn up on time, and relying on older gear that keeps breaking down, it can really cost you. We worked that model for a while and count ourselves very lucky that we are in a position now, where we can afford new trucks and have a good, full-time crew on the job.”
When it came to investing in a brand-new truck, David and his senior driver Glenn, who has been with Heli-Hire for four years, researched thoroughly before settling on the FUSO HD FS3147.
“We couldn’t be happier,” says David. “We now have two new HDs and they have been outstanding in so many ways. Glenn is in them all the time and will tell you at length how much he likes them.”
Having been behind the wheel of a number of trucks in his time, Glenn is a tough critic.
“We checked out a lot of trucks before making a decision,” says Glenn. “HD came out on top for the all-round package. Critically, we found the HD has plenty of power when fully loaded and the all-round drive quality is excellent – much better than the others we tested.”
After initial scepticism, Roadranger stalwart Glenn has been won over by the HD’s 12-speed automated manual transmission.
“Old autos I’ve driven were terrible, but this AMT is amazing. I wouldn’t go back. It’s also great for the young guys coming up from their Class 4, as it’s so easy to drive. When we get to tricky spots, it’s easy to flick to Tiptronic and have a bit more say over what gear you need.”
Heli-Hire’s FUSOs clock around 20,000km a year, mostly on unsealed roads and through tricky-to-negotiate areas such as narrow farm gates and paddocks full of livestock. In these situations, the clear visibility from the cab is a quality Glenn values highly.
“With the tight sites we often have to get into, we were never going to get a pointy-nose truck. Most trucks have several blind spots, but the HD has none. Its compact turning circle also means we can get anywhere with ease.”
When the terrain gets wet and slippery, Glenn calls on the HD’s snow/mud mode function, which engages the truck’s inter-axle diff lock for greater traction: “I’ve needed it a few times, and I’ve never gotten stuck.”
Overall ride quality, with greater comfort and reduced fatigue, has also been a standout for Glenn.
“When it’s empty, the trucks get up and go and the ride is nice. It rides even better when loaded up with 15 tonnes. We drive a lot of rough and metal roads and I get home feeling good, not buggered like I used to with the old trucks!
“The air con is great in summer and winter. Another thing I’ve enjoyed is the bed in the back. If I get to a job early, I can have a little rest. With early starts and long hours, this has been great.”
He adds that having Bluetooth capability has been another plus: “it has saved us having to use two-way radios with the helicopters!”
While performance and reliability were the key features that lead to buying the HDs, service was also a consideration.
“Rod Johnson at Keith Andrews Trucks Tauranga was great to deal – nothing was a problem,” says David. “He still pops in every now and then just to see how we’re going, and he texts me every month or so to make sure we haven’t had any problems. I also can’t fault the service from Transdiesel – it’s been fantastic.”
Dave appreciates that his business is now in a position to reap the benefits of steady growth.
“We’ve had the older gear – you have to start somewhere in life. Some people might look at our new trucks and think we're being a bit flashy, but the big things for us are performance and reliability. We’ve found the HD to be an awesome truck, very well priced, and we feel fortunate that we could buy two of them.”
As Heli-Hire continues to soar, supported by FUSO, the business retains the humble outlook of its modest beginnings.
8x4 HD FS3147
Power / Torque: 346kW / 2,227 Nm
Transmission: 12-spd AMT
Wheelbase: 5,870mm / 5,900mm