Past master of the schoolboy prank and equipped with an infectious good humour, Pascal Oliveiro is also first and foremost an experienced pilot who is enthusiastic and captivating, and who has become a business leader. We touch base with him. Text written by Laurent Persin © heliperformance
Pascal Oliveiro is today the manager and pilot of Heliperformance, a helicopter company created in May 2010. When he is asked the reason for the choice of company name, he replies with the inexorable logic of the marketing professional: “Because it sounds good in both French and in English and…because it didn’t exist!”. The tone is set, and when this young business manager is invited to introduce himself, he gives his age and vital measurements rather in the manner of a candidate for a reality TV show casting session. He is not unfamiliar with television, having been the pilot of the red helicopter on TV, then of the presenter of the French TV game Carte aux Trésors during the course of eight seasons. His experience has also included a few Dakar rally events which has given him an appreciation of the image, a skill that he has put to good use during the filming that accounts for a third of his activity.
THE MOUNTAIN AS A GIFT
The company, located between Geneva and Chamonix in the heart of the Arve valley, has provided tourist flights and passenger transport services right from the time it began doing business. The sensation is unique and the landscape is fascinating: the mountains are a magical place, and exploring them by helicopter is an unending pleasure for this pilot, who has clocked up over 10,000 hours of flight. The mountain, like the sea, offers itself up to those who know how to read and interpret this unique environment. For someone who has taught ski-ing and lived nearly half a century, Pascal has the humility and experience needed for mountain flights. Working to the old adage that ‘He can do the most can do the least’ confers a clear advantage on a pilot with experience in high altitude aerial work, as well as his geographical positioning compared to the ‘people of the plains’ as the mountainpeople are referred to. Carrying out load-lifting rotations at 4,000 metres with the aerology specific to the mountain ranges requires a degree of experience that a pilot that does not know this environment would be unable to bring to bear in the same way.
With two years’ worth of hindsight, Pascal is delighted to have taken the step of setting up the company. This risk was high but calculated after 17 years in the relative comfort of the status of employee pilot where a particular routine had been established. Without any real prospects for development, Pascal underwent his own personal revolution by becoming his own boss. At the age of 50, this was a carefully made decision to re-adjust everything, starting with the pleasure of re-discovering maiden flights, something which Pascal concedes is “an activity that I had neglected a little.” In order to be in a position to meet all of the need of the region, the choice of this machine seemed obvious. An aircraft was needed that was up to the versatility requirements of its missions. Heliperformance’s AS350 B3+ is a veritable Swiss army knife, and in less than 30 minutes it can be converted from a comfortable passenger transport configuration to a veritable Sherpa that can carry out concrete-carrying rotations for the rest of the day. With competition already established in the northern Alps, the company deploys its aerial services working from a new base located in the High Alps at Mont Dauphin.
As is often the case, a simple meeting is enough to move things forward. It was as he came across another mountain and helicopter enthusiast that the idea naturally arose to grow the business’s activities in the Southern Alps. With the help of Maxime Gaillard for his commercial development, Pascal brought his expertise to the other young business leader who was set up with his Robinson 44 at the Saint-Crépin aerodrome. Now a typical year for Heliperformance comprises three stages: summer is dedicated to aerial work bringing in 40% of its turnover, in order to prepare for the winter season where passenger transport is at its height. As for the between-season period, this is mainly the time when tourist flights are taken to take full advantage of the changing tree colours and the first high altitude snow
A MATTER OF IMAGE
What is it that motivates Pascal above all else? Bringing the helicopter to the service of his customers as a genuine working tool. Thanks to his televisual experience, which opened up a specific career path for him, aerial filming remains one of his favourite activities. The mountain is a playing field without limits, including the extreme sports that he is now used to filming and photographing. The pilot has the serious job of piloting, of course, but what the uninitiated do not know is that the pilot also directs the camera work. It is actually the aircraft’s position, the fluidity of the flight, and the smoothness of the transitions in the different flight scenarios that make it possible for the on-board camera operator, be it a shoulder-held camera or a camera mounted onto the aircraft, to create beautiful images. Whether the filming is for winter sport brand events or for major international competitions, the Heliperformance Ecureuil makes its way across the Alps – the Swiss, Italian or French ones – in search of the best views.
HEAD IN THE STARS
In the real sense (as he dons his yellow star-studded helmet) as well as in the figurative sense, Pascal Oliveiro never ceases to find his days sparkling. He recognises it in the smiles of his passengers, as well as by way of a decoration that he hardly ever mentions: the one he has for courage and devotion awarded by the Lozère fire and emergency services in which, during a fire-fighting aircraft mission, he avoided a fire on the Cévennes mountain range through his intervention in a fire that was inaccessible by land in the Tarn Gorges. As for this, he would just as soon stick a young pilot’s ‘A’ disc to signify an apprentice helicopter pilot. And what about holidays? “Holidays? That depends on the weather!” comments Pascal before taking to the skies for a new mission.