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Colville Aviation continues long history of Helmericks family on North Slope

Colleen Mondor

Aviation International News profiled Colville Aviation in its June issue, hailing this fixed-base operator (or FBO in aviation jargon) for the work it does at the top of the world in “the evocatively named Deadhorse Airport.” As an industry journal, it is to be expected that the article mostly sticks to straightforward statistics with the exception to referring to air carriers from Anchorage as “local” (do Fairbanks and Barrow not even exist on their maps?) and, of course, pointing out the “wandering herds of caribou” as an operational hazard.

Here’s a bit from the article on what Colville does for Prudhoe Bay visitors as the airport’s sole FBO and fuel provider:

The Avfuel dealer handles all aircraft fueling at the airport (including airline and military) and pumps two million gallons of jet-A and 250,000 gallons of 100LL annually. The company-owned fuel farm can hold 42,000 gallons of jet-A, including 12,000 gallons in a card-lock self-serve tank, along with 22,000 gallons of 100LL, 12,000 gallons of which is held in a similar self-serve unit. For those who want full service, the facility operates two jet-A tankers holding 5,000 gallons and 4,700 gallons respectively and a pair of avgas trucks.

Colville Aviation is only a couple of years old but its parent company, Colville Inc., has roots deep in Alaska’s history. Established by Alaska bush pilot and guide Harmon “Bud” Helmericks more than 60 years ago, Colville was originally known as the Arctic Tern Fish & Freight Company which served as a guide service for early North Slope oil exploration. The Helmericks homestead on the Colville River was also tied to the village of Nuiqsut, which was established 22 miles upriver of the homestead in the early 1970s. Prior to that, the Helmericks’ airstrip was the closest field for aircraft operating in and out of Prudhoe. It made them the hub for the '50s and '60s and cemented the family’s name in the region and industry.

Today, Colville Inc. includes not only Colville Aviation but Colville Solid Waste Service, Prudhoe Bay Alaska General Store and U.S. Post Office, and Brooks Range Supply. Mark Helmericks, one of Bud Helmericks’ sons, is the president and chief executive officer and company owner.

Colville Aviation offers an FBO lounge for visiting pilots comparable to similar facilities Outside, with a flight planning area, rooms for taking a rest, kitchen facilities and conference area. Shuttle service in Prudhoe is available and while the company does not own any hangars, access is available.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Deadhorse showed 42,000 passenger arrivals and departures for the 12-month period ending in February 2014 and moved 28 million pounds of freight and mail. Nine air carriers offered scheduled flights into the village, 2,754 departures. Not surprisingly, Alaska Airlines dominates the scheduled service market with Era Aviation and Hageland Aviation also offering flights. Charters are not uncommon however, especially during hunting season.

“While passengers and crew might be excused from thinking they had reached the ends of the Earth in a location that doesn’t see daylight in December and January,” writes Aviation International, “complimentary Wi-Fi at the facility allows them to remain in contact with the rest of the world.”

Compared to life growing up on the Helmericks homestead on the Colville, the amenities at the Colville Aviation FBO are a nearly unimaginable future and certainly far beyond what Harmon Helmericks could have dreamed up when flying the Slope decades ago.

Harmon Helmericks most popular book, “The Last of the Bush Pilots” is available for purchase online. Also read Craig Medred’s appreciation of Helmericks for more on this great Alaskan.

Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com.