Beneath the blades: the Industry of old helicopters

Deep in the industrial heart of Tilbury, there’s a small warehouse filled with partially dismantled helicopters. At first, it might seem like some kind of helicopter graveyard; a veritable chop shop in more ways than one. In reality, there’s window into a living, breathing industry here, where specializing in the sale of helicopter parts is the name of the game.

Enter Dave Bohonis, and his company: Rotorlink.

“I’ve been doing this for about 40 years now,” he tells me, as we sit in a mezzanine overlooking the Rotorlink warehouse. Below us, helicopter parts are arranged on shelves and in boxes. There’s no shortage of supply here. Four helicopters sit dormant in the main room, having been acquired by Rotorlink for dismantling and resale. Like some sort of rotary stockbroker, Bohonis has carefully crafted a system for buying helicopters the moment they are made available for purchase.

“Typically I’ll track aircraft sales,” he explains. “When I find out that some company is buying a new model of helicopter, that means to me that they’re selling off the old one.”

The result of his efforts is a system that allows Bohonis to keep Rotorlink safely in the industry updraft.

The helicopters themselves are packed side to side like sardines in the warehouse. For a business dealing in aircraft, there’s not exactly a lot of open air. In an industry like this, that just means business is booming.

But with so many helicopters on display, who’s buying?

While non-disclosure agreements mask some of the more curious clients, the typical customer buys helicopter parts simply for maintenance.

Still, there’s no time or place for cruise control in this business. The hardest part of his job, as Bohonis puts it, is getting that “network of people that are selling their stuff, knowing where to find it, and buying it right.” A system like this has been four decades in the making, and having the right suppliers on your radar is a necessity here. A system geared towards quick, competitive purchases is what sets Rotorlink apart from the various other helicopter suppliers in the game.

With other options for helicopter suppliers, including the makers themselves, getting involved in such a unique industry is nothing short of exhausting. For Rotorlink to survive at all in such a turbulent economy is no small feat. With a mere four employees under their banner, the task might seem like madness to some. However, for a company to dig its roots in for six years and counting, it’s clear that someone must have a trick up their sleeve. As it turns out, the trump card in question belongs to Bohonis.

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