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MRO West Coast – HeliTender
Photos and Story by Steve Goldsworthy

Los Angeles is known for many things:  beaches, skyscrapers, complex airspace, freeway chases and a lot of helicopter operators that support the tourist and broadcasting needs of the city.  But as we all should know, behind every good helicopter stands a solid MRO, and behind that MRO stand great mechanics.

"You will never find a better A-Star Mechanic than Armen Vartanian," says Angel City Air President Larry Welk about his long-time friend and Owner of Helitender, Inc.  Armen knew what he wanted to do when he joined the U.S. Army back in 1983.  Always curious and admiring helicopters, he knew he wanted to be a helicopter mechanic.  He spent the next three years working on the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, a 50,000-pound MGW staple of the Army fleet.

He then went thru a local A&P college program and took several jobs working on everything from Lear Jets to Piper aircraft.  “I couldn’t find a job anywhere working on helicopters, so I had to work on everything else,” he says.  Then in 1993, he landed at an operation that not only had a jet to service, but they also had a Eurocopter AS350 “A-Star”.  In 1997 he moved over to the Los Angeles County Fire Department and gained experience in the Bell 205, 206, 412 and eventually the newer Sikorsky S-70 Firehawks. 

“I had an operation on the side part-time working on helicopters,” Armen tells me.  “After awhile, it just grew to be so large, I had to leave my fire job.”  Questioning why anyone would leave a secure job, with a solid retirement, Armen just shrugs his shoulders. 

Now in its tenth year, Helitender specializes in not only the AS350, but also the 355, Hughes (MD) 500, Eurocopter EC 120, 130, 145 and the Bell Jet Ranger and Long Ranger series.  Ninety-five percent of his business is maintenance service; the other five percent is parts sales.

Located at Whiteman Airport (KWHP) just North of Los Angeles, one of his primary customers is Angel City Air, which operates AS 350 aircraft for four of the local television broadcasters in Los Angeles.  Helitender also has a reputation among some of the famous Hollywood elite, so you never know whom you might run into at their shop!

With six employees, I asked Armen what made him unique in the market.  “I think it’s our reputation, our honesty with the customer, we’re very open and yet competitive.”  But how hard is it to find mechanics these days and where do you look?  “We get resumes dropped off, and I use a web service to alert potential employees, but sometimes it’s easier to start a new guy fresh out of school.  They want to learn.”

We talk a little about the hard times starting in 2008 with the slide in the US economy.  I know it was a difficult time for most aviation businesses.  “A lot of my customers sold their aircraft back then, it was too hard for them to compete.”  He is optimistic that 2013 will bring some of those customers back.  With one of his customers recently purchasing an R44, Armen immediately attended the Robinson R22/R44 maintenance course to stay ahead of his client’s needs.

From 1,300-pound R22’s to 50,000-pound CH 47’s, it sounds like Armen and his crew at Helitender have it all covered.

Posted in: Company Profiles


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