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New electricity line in Balsthal: Old pylons airlifted for disposal

Balsthal, 13 February 2008: Since October 2007 a new 16 kV underground line has been supplying power to the commune of Balsthal. The old 50 kV pylon line was decommissioned last autumn and had to be dismantled. Since some of the pylons were situated on ground that was difficult to access, they had to be airlifted off the site by helicopter. Helog Heliswiss of Berne, a specialist in heavy goods airlifting, was called in to help Atel Transmission Ltd to remove the heavy pylon parts, weighing as much as 4.5 tonnes, by air.

Helicopter airlifts heavy loads from difficult terrain

In the early hours of 13 February 2008, 20 employees of Atel Transmission Ltd and Helog Heliswiss gathered on the grounds of the old Von Roll steel factory in Balsthal. The briefing was short and to the point, and everyone knew what he had to do. When the heavy goods helicopter, a Russian Kamov KA32A12, started up its twin 2200 PS turbines and took off from the launch pad, the ground teams were already in position to attach the grappling hooks onto the heavy metal parts. The eight disused pylons had been cut up the day before, using rotary cutters. Six of them were airlifted in two parts, and two were lifted in one piece. Each payload weighed between two and 4.5 tonnes depending on the size - no problem for a helicopter that is capable of lifting loads of up to five tonnes.

Attention: Cars, animals and washing brought to safety

Since some of the pylons were situated in a residential area, residents were informed in good time and asked to take special precautionary measures in view of the helicopter's strong backdraft. For instance, they had to secure free-standing objects, park their cars in the garage, and make sure free-range animals were penned up.

1-hour helicopter flight: 900 liters of kerosene and CHF 13,500 in costs

It took only an hour to remove all the pylon parts and deposit them at a designated spot on the Von Roll compound. This necessitated 14 helicopter trips. "Everything went smoothly: it's a routine job for us," commented pilot Beat Fahrni. "Airlifting heavy freight is what we do every day." The detailed planning and precision execution paid off on the day. Any delays during the helicopter airlift would have added significantly to the expense: the airlift costs CHF 13'500 an hour - no doubt partly due to the fact that the helicopter consumes 900 liters of kerosene an hour.

Project management and helicopter team satisfied: "Like clockwork"

Project manager Georg Müller expressed satisfaction at the successful removal of the pylons. Asked about the difficult task they had completed, Müller admitted that it wasn't particularly challenging for him. "Compared to the excavation and cabling we carried out between October 2006 and 2007 for the underground line, the airlift was relatively simple. A few phone calls, a discussion and then placing the order: that's all it took. And for the Helog Heliswiss people, it was a routine job." But it still proved to be a special experience for him: during his 36 years as project manager it was only the second time he had been actively involved in a helicopter airlift