The NH90 helicopters of the Guard Jaeger Regiment in Utti are maintained by a young group of experienced mechanics. The group works together closely with its client. The new and purposely designed maintenance hangar will expand at the end of the year to contain six separate locations.

Text: Vesa Vainio
Photos: Johannes Wiehn

Niko Nikkanen and Matti Niinimäki are accustomed to working with helicopters at Patria’s Utti unit. Both have ample experience of NH90 helicopters, their speciality. Their client, the Utti Guard Jaeger Regiment, is located on the other side of the airport. “We work together very well, and our relations are close. We communicate with our client daily. They are our neighbours, after all. We cooperate closely for instance when using testing devices. The results of this are there for all to see.” Both Niinimäki and Nikkanen used to work as technicians, but now they manage the production process. It is their responsibility to ensure that deadlines are met and procedures are followed. But they still also like to get their hands dirty if they have enough time. Much in this area continually requires further research and clarification.

When an NH90 helicopter is scheduled for maintenance, it is first checked thoroughly to assess its condition. Possible faults are identified. The extent of the basic maintenance program is determined by the helicopter’s flight hours and/or the calendar months. The most complete maintenance process requires the disassembly of the entire helicopter. Then its components are spread out on the hangar floor. “The maintenance procedure is performed by checking, removing, cleaning, and compiling the various parts. We troubleshoot thoroughly. Small problems arise now and then,” Nikkanen explains.

The process can take anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on the range of the operation. Individual components or device internal faults are not fixed at Utti. “The maintenance procedure is completed by checking the machine once more in its entirety. After this we conduct system tests and perform a test flight,” Niinimäki reports.

Carefully Designed Processes

Niinimäki, who hails from the Lappeenranta area in Finland, was always interested in aviation. He decided to apply at the Kouvola region vocational school (KSAO). This was the beginning of this impressive career. “I have now spent 12 years working on these machines. Before this I worked as a mechanic in Jämsä. So I started from the basics.” The KSAO emphasises mechanics. In contrast, Nikkanen has a background in the electronics of aviation. He was trained for this in his home town of Tampere. He began his career at the Malmi airport in Helsinki, and eight years ago he started at Utti. “The job sounded attractive, and I have always appreciated the variety.

The technologies constantly evolve, so there are new things to learn all the time.  This job requires precision and focus.” Nikkanen and Niinimäki view the aviation field as a solid employer. Here their care and devotion is supported and rewarded. The large company size does imply some inflexibility, however. This is partly explained by the rigid laws and regulations concerning aviation. “Our processes are carefully designed, which is in general a very good thing,” Nikkanen and Niinimäki agree.

Neighbourly Relations

19 professional mechanics work in Utti. Says the production manager Tomi Rautiainen: “Our work force is young, but it is also very experienced. Many of them have been here since the start of the project, and their devotion runs deep. They are focused enough for the job. They recognise the client’s needs and see to it that these are met.” The project was begun in 2008, which is when the Utti Guard Jaeger Regiment received its first NH90 helicopter. As more helicopters were attained, the maintenance needs grew. Patria arrived on the scene to meet these demands. Patria built its hangar for helicopter maintenance next to the Utti airport in 2011. We have had four specific maintenance locations in the hangar thus far, but this year we will receive two more.

“The regiment now uses 18 helicopters, and this number will rise to 20 once the retrofit modifications have been completed. The maintenance needs are constantly increased also due to longer flight hours. We need more space and more employees to satisfy our client.“ A further part of this well functioning whole is the KSAO, which started its own educational centre next to the hangar in 2013. This is the only facility in Finland for training mechanics specifically in helicopter technologies. According to Rautiainen, the short physical distance to one’s client is valuable especially for the sake of direct interactions. Utti’s model is now used also at Patria’s other locations, Tikkakoski and Pirkkala.