For Toronto-based Sprint Mechanical and its partners and clients, using Sprint’s own Sikorsky S58ET helicopter to perform large lifts never seems to grow old.
There was a palpable sense of excitement among the work crews participating in an HVAC lift in the early morning hours of March 19 at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre as Sprint and its aviation partner Four Seasons Aviation made quick work of the job, dropping two new HVAC units and removing an antiquated unit and scrap waste in nine lifts in a half hour.
Four Seasons aircraft maintenance engineer Rama Rahimi was taking lots of photos during the 10-minute flight from Buttonville Airport to the mall. Sprint foreman Domenic Fusco, who has assisted at numerous helicopter lifts over the years, delayed putting on his headphones as pilot Dave Tommasini, president of Four Seasons, started the engines — he still finds it exciting to listen as the engine noise builds and the blades begin to whir, he said. And the rooftop crew from client Etobicoke Sheet Metal descended to the parking lot and congregated around the freshly painted orange S58ET after the job was done, taking their own photos and in no apparent hurry to leave.
Tommasini has been flying for 37 years and said he enjoys the size and muscle of this big Sikorsky, which was built in 1956, flew for the French Navy and has been upgraded numerous times including a retrofit conversion to install twin turbine Pratt and Whitney PT6 engines.
"It is a beautiful piece of equipment," said Tommasini when the lift was over.
"It is a great performer, it’s nice to fly, it’s very comfortable, and we are doing some very nice work with it.
"The capability is what’s good. I am used to flying smaller aircraft so this to me is a big step forward. It has great capacity, it lifts a lot of weight, but it’s comfortable, it’s safe, it’s got a lot of margin, you’re not really sweating about the power margin, it’s there, or as much as you want, so it’s really, really good."
Sprint Mechanical vice-president of safety and legal affairs Ian Bergeron said the purchase of the two-engine, four-blade S58ET by Sprint president Albert Salvatore last September after extensive due diligence, gives the firm a leg up on its competitors across the province.
Bergeron assessed the March 19 lift moments after its completion while still on the Yorkdale roof to make the point.
"You are about 400 feet in from the edge, so could you have craned it? You would have had to use maybe a 1000-tonne crane with 700 feet of boom," he said. "But the problem with a bigger crane, even with the smaller crane, is they have to set up, and they use another crane to set up, and they take up parking space. This mall, this is the only time we can lift, because the mall is open seven days a week, each parking spot is worth $15,000 a day to the mall. If you take up a bigger crane, they could take up a third or a whole parking lot, and they are taking it up for days, so there you are tying up hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue to the mall.
"If people can’t park the car, they are not going to shop here."
An essential part of Sprint’s role as the mechanical contractor in the partnership is creating meticulous lift plans for project owners, clients and contractors on diverse projects such as structural steel, sheet metal or HVAC jobs or even non-construction clients such as General Motors, Bergeron explained.
Bergeron’s lift plan for the Yorkdale job was 38 pages long and covered all aspects including precise descriptions of vehicle capacity, project duty flowcharts, site layout, flight path, HVAC systems, rigging and slings, laydown area, emergency procedures, crew sizes and roles, communications, project participants including mall owner Oxford Properties, mall unit tenant Richemont Multi Brand and Transport Canada, which issued a flight permit — even insurance purchased and helicopter hand signals.
Safety is a top priority with so many worksites involved in a lift and the added hazards introduced by blades whirling around creating winds of up to 100 miles per hour in the immediate vicinity of the helicopter, said Bergeron. Multiple meetings are required and crews often spent time in a classroom where lift logistics are choreographed and practised. Thorough site prep including removal of objects that might be whipped across the worksite by generated winds is essential.
Bergeron talked about one exceptional lift performed at the Vaughan Mills shopping centre when 146 HVAC units were dropped onto the facility roof over a six-hour period. The crew was pleased to see rain that day that kept dust down at the active construction site.
The Yorkdale lift had complications, said Bergeron, with significant obstacles including gas pipes, electrical conduits, surface recesses, fences and glass for the pilot and rooftop crew to work around.
"It was very, very tight," said Bergeron. "It took a lot of skill for Dave to position, and he gave me the hook, he put it right in my hand."