By Shari Valenta
You may know Richard Westra. The helicopter pilot and reporter for KMGH-TV 7NEWS has been with the station for 15 years and has more than 15,000 flight hours. What you might not know is that when he isn’t busy doing the morning and evening news, he devotes his time to Aviation Technology Services.
Westra co-owns ATS with Kevin P. Kauffman, who also wears different hats. He solely owns Kauffman Company, Inc., an independent oil and gas production and well service company operating in Colorado and New Mexico.
“I met Kevin about five years ago when I was training him to fly a helicopter,” said Westra. “He liked my business initiative and we saw a niche we could fill. We started this company a year and a half ago, and we’ve been doing quite well. We want to continue to grow and to provide outstanding service.”
Westra taught Kauffman through his helicopter training business, Mile High Helicopter Company. The company is still in existence, but now does all its business as ATS.
“Right now, in the Denver metro area, there’s a shortage of helicopter services, so we try to fill that void,” explained Westra.
The business’s corporate office is located in Denver, and the helicopters are hangared at Centennial Airport. ATS offers three types of services. The primary service is aerial surveillance to monitor pipeline integrity in the oil and gas industry.
“We look for methane gas,” said Westra. “A lot of the infrastructure from moving methane gas out of the ground to public services is through underground pipeline. The pipeline is getting old, so we use a detector under our helicopters to look for leaks while flying over the pipelines.”
ATS looks for methane gas leaks using a Boreal laser, state-of-the-art technology that’s strapped under their aircraft. The service is important because an undetected leak could lead to significant loss of revenue, fines, property damage, and even accidental death.
ATS pilots can fly up to 60 miles per hour while gathering data to monitor the pipeline integrity. The laser is even self-calibrating. ATS’s system takes air samples every second and offers a streaming digital video of the flight path over the pipeline.
Global Positioning System allows the various helicopter positions to be recorded on maps or aerial photos. ATS says this type of technology saves time and money and is more accurate than ground surveillance or infrared or ultraviolet methods.
If a leak is detected, ATS is able to quickly transport environmental response personnel to the scene. ATS also provides utility services including aerial firefighting, search and rescue assistance, load lifting and personnel transport.
“We airlift anything from air conditioners to hot tubs to cattle that are stuck on the side of a hill in the snow,” said Westra. “We carry anything you could think of that weighs less than 1,000 pounds and anything a crane can’t access that has to be moved from one point to another.”
Another service provided is executive charter services. This includes aerial tours, executive charter, real estate viewing, aerial photography and special events. Affordable air tours leave from Centennial daily. They start at $99 per person (minimum three passengers, reservations required) and flights include the scenic Rocky Mountains or flying over the bustling mile high city.
ATS has three aircraft to serve you. A Bell 206L3 LongRanger, which carries five passengers, is used for executive charter, tours, transport, utility work, cargo, SWAT and medical transport services. Two Bell 206B3 JetRangers, equipped with the gas-finding lasers, carry four passengers and are used for the surveillance business as well as charters.
What sets ATS apart from other helicopter businesses is experience. Their pilots have decades of experience in the air and over 20,000 flight hours. ATS has three pilots on staff and one full-time mechanic for aircraft maintenance. Each year, ATS pilots conduct check rides with the Federal Aviation Administration and attend recurrent training at the Bell Helicopter Training Academy.
ATS also prides itself on its service and making sure clients feel safe and secure in the aircraft.
“A lot of people don’t know how helicopters work, so we try to ease their mind by helping them understand how they fly and what they do,” said Westra.
Westra enjoys working in his field because of the variety.
“When I wake up in the morning, I never know what I’m going to do,” said Westra. “It’s always going to be something different. It’s never routine.”
The corporate office of Aviation Technology Services is located at 1675 Broadway, Suite 2800. The hangar is located at 7355 S. Peoria St., Suite 112. For more information, call 303-825-0815 (office) or 303-858-1359 (hangar), or visit [http://www.atshelo.com].