Managing the Risks of a High Flying Solution

They don’t come much more challenging than this: using a helicopter to lift tonnes of obsolete HVAC equipment from the roof of an iconic building in South Yarra’s busiest shopping precinct. For AE Smith and their client, Challenger, the key to safety and success was meticulous planning and preparation for everyone involved

1 Sep 2012

“In essence the project itself was not overly technical, it was simply a matter of taking off the existing package units and replacing them,” said Robert Houston, National Portfolio Engineer for Challenger.

“But it was labelled with risk, risk, risk – a prominent location, major tenant, busy shopping strip, few windows of opportunity, a highly populated area and a railway line adjacent. Also, the area where the units were located lies next to a glass dome over the Jam Factory food court and the two major exits from the cinema. The difficulty factor was between 9 and 9.5.

“60 to 70 per cent of this project’s success was tied up in the planning, and we valued AE Smith’s ability to work with myself and the CBRE project manager and have it go like clockwork.”

It took two hours in total for the lift of three redundant units and placement of three new units. Four days of preparation had been involved, to reduce the units to the 1,200kg maximum lifting weight, by removing items including compressors and refrigerant. Afterwards, four days work was involved in rewiring, connecting, testing and commissioning of the new units. The three new energy-efficient 90kW units have been installed to service the glass dome area of the Jam factory, which has a substantial heat load through the summer months.

A team of four AE Smith staff worked on the project, with 11 subcontractors including ground crew, roof crew and traffic management. The building needed to be cleared during the lift, and exclusion zone maintained around the site.

“We had to have a lot of checks and double checks during pre-planning, and there had to be a flight plan, EHS plan, and other variables. The helicopter crew were very professional and stepped us through it all beforehand, including the hooking and unhooking of the electrostatic lines for each corner of the equipment,” explained AE Smith Project Supervisor, Travis Young.

“The biggest challenge was the helicopter permit, we had to get people to put trust in us. There was a lot of documentation gathering, including insurance, permits from Civil Aviation, the council, police and the fire brigade. We also prepared a 20-30 page safe work method statement,” said AE Smith Project Consultant, Brad Gemmell.

“No crane could get into the space due to the logistics of the building, so this idea came from site knowledge. We put in a plan up to five years ago for these units to be replaced based on their age and running hours, and we knew from the outset we would need a helicopter to do it. Achieving it successfully was all about managing risk.”