40 Years of Flying: Family-Owned Soloy Helicopters
Part one in a series of Crowley Fuels customer profiles
The Soloys are an Alaska flying family, with three generations of helicopter and airplane pilots in the family tree. For the past forty years, Chris Soloy has put that expertise to work in the family business, Soloy Helicopters, a Wasilla-based helicopter services company serving many different industries across Alaska. Crowley Fuels values its long-standing relationship with Soloy Helicopters and is proud to serve the fuel needs of this family-owned company.
Soloy, president of the company, moved to Ketchikan with his family in 1958. Soloy, whose father was a helicopter pilot, started flying at the age of sixteen. He began working as a helicopter mechanic in 1971, and bought his first helicopter in 1979, marking the start of Soloy Helicopters. Now, Soloy’s son, Sam, is the director of operations for the family business. Soloy’s other son, Matthew, is also a pilot and the owner of Soloy Construction in Wasilla.
“I’ve spent most of my life in Alaska and most of my business has been in Alaska,” says Soloy, who runs Soloy Helicopters with his wife Jan.
Soloy’s first helicopter contract was hauling fish off of boats in Bristol Bay in 1979. “I rebuilt a turbine-powered Hiller 12E and leased two more for that contract,” Soloy says. “We just added helicopters slowly as the opportunities presented themselves. We were able to buy our first Hughes 500D in 1981, and by finding real good pilots and mechanics and providing a good service, we have been able to grow our company and customer base slowly and carefully to where we are today.”
Today, Soloy Helicopters has a diversified fleet of nineteen helicopters and two support airplanes, including Hughes 500Ds, B2 and B3 Astars, two twin-engine BK117s, and two Bell 205s. The company employs twenty-eight, full-time, year-round employees. The number of employees jumps to forty-two in the summer. “It takes a lot of people to keep up a fleet of that size,” Soloy says.
In the early days, the company operated out of the Soloy’s little house and garage, using a small, private runway on their land in Wasilla. However, after decades of growth, they were “bursting at the seams,” Soloy says.
Last fall, the company moved into a brand new, 14,000-square-foot facility at the Wasilla airport, realizing a long-time dream for the Soloys. “We’ve been planning for a long time and finally were in a position to make it happen. It’s wonderful to have,” Soloy says.
As Soloy Helicopters has grown over the years, safety remains a cornerstone of the business. Soloy is particularly proud of the company’s well-developed safety management system and quality control system, as well as their pilot and mechanic training programs. “We’re constantly doing pilot and mechanic training to further our employees’ knowledge,” Soloy says.
“Crowley has provided us with excellent service and pricing. By calling Crowley, we can figure out the most economical way to get fuel when and where we need it. Crowley is also very reliable in terms of cost estimates and delivery dates. That’s paramount. You can’t run a camp without fuel.”
Sam Soloy, left, Director of Operations for Soloy Helicopters, and his father, Chris, president and namesake of the company.
In addition to designing and offering its own in-house pilot and mechanic training program, the company brings up instructors to lead classes and also sends employees out for factory training. “Good pilots and mechanics are interested in good training,” says Soloy, who is both a mechanic and a pilot himself. “It’s important to know what’s going on, and what it takes to maintain an aircraft. We take safety very seriously.”
In addition to training, maintenance, and management, fuel plays a critical role in the company’s safety management system. “The quality and cleanliness of our fuel is always the top consideration, and then on-time deliveries,” says Soloy, who has worked with Crowley Fuels, one of Alaska’s leading fuel distribution companies, since 2011 for his company’s aviation fuel needs.
Like Crowley, Soloy Helicopters operates all across Alaska, from the Aleutians to Barrow to Southeast. “Anywhere remote where people need to get access,” Soloy says. The bulk of the company’s work these days is supporting mineral and oil exploration, moving in people, equipment, supplies, and fuel to keep projects running in remote areas.
The company also provides air support for forest firefighting, fish and game work to track wildlife populations and movement, power line construction, environmental studies, and remote building projects, including cabins. Although the majority of contracts are for the summertime, the company does some winter work, including heliskiing and the occasional winter drill program. Winter is also when the company focuses on annual inspections and maintenance.
“The flying is mostly seasonal, but we are always busy–either busy flying and maintaining, or busy maintaining,” Soloy says.
Operating a helicopter company in Alaska comes with its own unique challenges, including long distances and remote locations, where employees and aircraft can be onsite for weeks or months at a time. “You can’t drive to our jobs,” Soloy says. “It’s important to be able to support the aircraft when you’re that far away. You need the ability to get supplies anywhere in the state quickly.”
Fuel logistics are an important piece of the puzzle. Crowley’s fuel storage capacity in locations throughout the state is one reason Soloy chooses to work with Crowley Fuels. “They have the ability to get us fuel in a lot of locations,” he says.
Soloy also appreciates Crowley’s responsiveness, reliability, and fuel quality. “Crowley has provided us with excellent service and pricing. By calling Crowley, we can figure out the most economical way to get fuel when and where we need it. Crowley is also very reliable in terms of cost estimates and delivery dates. That’s paramount. You can’t run a camp without fuel.”
Crowley began serving the people and businesses of Alaska in 1953. Today, Crowley Fuels serves more than 280 Alaska communities, fueling homes, businesses, and industry, including the aviation sector, in every corner of the state, always with a focus on quality, safety, and reliability.
In This Issue
The Alaska Marine Lifeline
The current conversation Alaskans are having was spurred by Governor Mike Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal for 2020, which would cut funding to the AMHS by 75 percent and essentially end most operations by October.