Helicopter business turns 40

By Erika Venter

This weekend Beck Helicopters celebrated 40 years since Alan Beck started the family-owned operation outside Eltham.

It was the first Taranaki-based helicopter operator, and is the longest-surviving helicopter business in New Zealand.

Formed in 1972 to meet an increasing need for helicopter services in the province, Alan says the business has grown from a single Bell 47 helicopter, a small hangar and small staff base to one which now operates three Bell Iroquois and one Bell Jet Ranger helicopter across New Zealand and carries out maintenance on four continents.

The company employs up to 15 staff, including numerous contractors and part-time employees.

Further expansion, Alan says, is on the cards, with the future looking rosy.

"We are here for the long-haul." He adds that it is not an easy feat in a very tight industry. "It is hard to find operators in New Zealand that have been around more than 20 years."

Mainly an agricultural operator, Beck Helicopters diversified into maintenance in the early 2000s, which has proved a wise decision.

"Maintenance has gone ballistic.

"We could easily now provide jobs for 20 more engineers. We are the only company licensed for overhauling Iroquois engines and airframes in New Zealand," says Alan.

The company has a long list of firsts, including being the first helicopter operator in New Zealand to utilise a Jet Ranger on agricultural operations and the first in the southern hemisphere to operate Restricted Category Iroquois for commercial operations.

Through the company's involvement with search and rescue for 22 years, Alan says they also had the opportunity to give back to the Taranaki community, having participated in more than 500 rescues.

"It has really put Beck Helicopters on the map," says Alan. The company received the Queen's Service medal for services to search and rescue in 1989, but Alan says the honour goes to the volunteers who put their lives at risk. "We only flew the helicopters."

Originaly hailing from Rotorua, a fertiliser spreader company he had worked for since he was in school sent him to Taranaki. He met Margaret in Eltham. They married in 1969, settled here and raised three children. "The rest, as they say, is history."

At 65, he admits to thinking of retiring, having son David to take over the reins but, apart from a bout of having had enough of flying 20 years ago", he says it still gives him a thrill. It has taken him to far-off places such as Nome in Alaska and involved him in projects such at the Queenstown bungy, the pulling-down of the tree on One Tree Hill in Auckland and pouring concrete for the new chairlift at the Turoa ski field.

- Stratford Press

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