By Greg Stiles
MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Erickson, an American aircraft manufacturing and operating company based in Oregon, is gearing up for its first project in India, where they’ve signed a deal to install nearly 160 power transmission towers.
In typical Erickson fashion, the project is in a remote region fraught with challenges unique to the company whose signature S64 Aircrane will negotiate the mountainous terrain of the Pir Panjal range, a short hop from India’s borders with China and Pakistan.
Erickson is working with a unit of Sterlite Technologies, India’s largest private utility firm. Sterlite Grid Ltd. builds, maintains, and operates power transmission lines and substations. The 280-mile project, delivering 1,000 MW of electricity from Punjab to Jammu and the Kashmir Valley, is Sterlite Grid’s sixth ultra-mega transmission project awarded by India’s Ministry of Power.
Kashmir, wedged against some of the world’s most impressive peaks, attracts both tourists and pilgrims. The Pir Panjal range in Kashmir, part of the Middle Himalayas, extends from the Jhelum River to the upper Beas River for more than 200 miles, separated from the Zaskar Range by the valley of Kashmir. Its peaks often rise to more than 16,400 feet.
“The ancient Silk Road goes through there and a lot of people transit that area in the summer months going to shrines in the mountains,” said Andy Mills, Erickson’s commercial aviation vice president.
It is also disputed territory with longstanding tensions between India and Pakistan, where gunfire is exchanged from time to time along the line of control.
“The Kashmir and Jammu area is sort of contested, but the Indian military is very strong up there,” Mills said. “Roughly speaking, we’re working on the west side of Kashmir. The area where we will be working though is significantly different than the line of control.”
Erickson is no stranger to high-risk locations — both of natural and human origins. Three Erickson employees were among 10 people kidnapped in October 2000 in the Ecuadoran jungle and held captive for six months.
“We’re in the process of a full security analysis, looking at our safety and security needs,” Mills said.
Erickson is assigning a 12-man specialty construction crew, larger than usual, to the Pir Panjal project, flying its equipment and staff into Srinagar in May or June, followed by training of Indian crews.
“Setting towers is a high-precision work involving especially trained pilots and ground crew,” Mills said. “When you’re working in a mountainous area, you always have to watch for violent weather, updrafts, and downdrafts, especially when you have a load under the aircraft.”
Erickson, whose aircranes have a service ceiling of 14,500 feet, will transport materials to sites ranging from 9,000 to 12,500 feet.
“When we pick the tower pieces from the yard, we’re never more than a few hundred feet off the ground,” Mills said. “But we are flying with lighter loads than at sea level.”
Up to now, generators have been the primary source of electricity in northern India, while many people have no access to power. Sterlite, headquartered in Pune, estimates Erickson’s anticipated three-month contribution will reduce the project’s completion time by 10 months.
“You can only truck equipment to a certain point,” Mills said. “If they had to do it the way they’ve done it in the past, thousands of cubic yards of concrete and metal sections would have to be carried on people’s backs.”
Sterlite has more areas to bring on the grid, so Erickson CEO Jeff Roberts says he believes there are more opportunities down the road.
“We believe we can offer a competitive advantage in the construction of infrastructure projects in the country,” Roberts said. (end)