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May 23. 2013 8:00PM

Nashua aviation company looks for danger on ground


Based at the Nashua Municipal Airport, Assist Aviation Services provides imaging services for utilities, colleges and other clients. (COURTESY)

NASHUA — During emergencies, a view from above can greatly expedite the work on the ground.

When disaster strikes, companies like Assist Aviation Solutions can help utility companies get power back online by providing live imaging of their infrastructure, as the Nashua aviation company did after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. It also provides imaging information for researchers studying topography and the ocean.

Co-founder Carolyn Abbott said the company can also aid search-and-rescue efforts, like the one going on in Oklahoma right now following Monday's massive tornado strike.

"For emergency response what we offer to do is feed imagery to federal and local rescue crews and really anyone down there looking for people or animals," Abbott said. "We can help guide them around areas that are dangerous, areas they can't see form street level."

Founded in Concord in 2010, Abbott said the company soon moved to the Nashua Municipal Airport, where it has three planes and about 15 part- and full-time employees,

"We want to help. That is one of the reasons we founded the company," Abbott said.

Of the company's three planes, two are designed as overwater observation platforms, and one is equipped with a slow motion sensor for land data acquisition.

Aviation Operations Director Rick Bartle said that one of the main positives of working at Assist is that no two days are the same.

"It's refreshing, there is lots of energy at this job. I enjoy the challenge of building solutions for our customers, it's a lot of custom work, and it takes away the humdrum desk-bound aspect of coming to the office," Bartle said.

Despite being a pilot and having graduated from the Daniel Webster College's now defunct aviation program, Bartle said Assist relies on the great community of pilots that Nashua has to offer.

"We have a great staff of local pilots, most of whom work part time. They do a great job doing challenging work in challenging conditions and bringing home the craft and crews home safely, great crew to work with," Bartle said.

Part of what makes the job so interesting, Bartle said, is that one day you could be working with a scientist interested in monitoring marine life and the next day a utility company that wants to monitor its equipment.

"We have lots of experience in a lot of different things — military, private industry, all walks of life. Working out of Nashua has been helpful," Bartle said. "Nashua Airport is very busy, and has been a real proving ground for folks, upping their experience and the talent pool."

Nashua Municipal Airport Manager Roy Rankin said that as far as he knows, Assist is not only business of its kind not just to the Nashua Airport, but in the whole of New England as well.

"They are unique in what they do," Rankin said. "It is interesting to have them here."

Assist's two planes, designed as overwater platforms, work to help colleges track and study ecosystems, wildlife populations and breeding grounds in the Atlantic. For utility companies, the overwater platforms can offer surveillance of their wind farms to ensure they remain in good working order and are not in violation of any regulations.

After the remnants of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy swept through the granite state, Abbott said Assist aided utility companies by providing instant information to repair crews on the ground, telling them where trouble spots were and how to avoid danger.

Abbott said that along with aiding search and rescue efforts after disasters, Assist also has the capability to offer monitoring of specific areas for law enforcement or to provide things like vehicle tracking. With the sensitivity of the cameras on Assist's planes, it can even aid in suspect identification or monitor firefighters as they attack a particularly deadly blaze.

Soon after a mile-wide tornado carved through an Oklahoma suburb Monday, Abbott posted on her company blog on blogspot.com a willingness to go to Oklahoma to aid in the search and rescue of people and animals still trapped underneath the rubble even though it is well off the beaten path.

"We are a New England-based company, but we know the devastation a tornado like that can create, and we could definitely help guide search and rescue teams on the ground and help keep them out of danger while they look for survivors," Abbott said.



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