One of Erickson Air-Crane's more colorful heavy-lift helicopters is coming home, or at least returning to its maker's fleet.
A $21.75 million deal between Erickson and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. was announced Friday, returning the Sun Bird to the Oregon company nearly four years after it was sold to the Southern California utility.
Erickson said reacquiring the Sun Bird, built at its Willow Springs Road plant in Central Point, will allow it to meet increased demand from oil-and-gas firms and power line construction companies.
The reacquisition boosts Erickson's helicopter fleet to 18. More than 90 percent of the company's $65.5 million in revenue during the first six months of this year came from energy exploration, logging and firefighting agreements.
"We are very pleased to have concluded this important transaction," Udo Rieder, president and CEO of Erickson Air-Crane, said in a statement. "The timing of our purchase will allow us to take advantage of market opportunities in 2013 and beyond in the oil-and-gas and power line construction sectors of our business in South America and elsewhere."
Unlike the typical orange Erickson Sikorsky S-64s, the Sun Bird has distinct red, white and blue markings.
In conjunction with the purchase of the aircraft, Erickson agreed to provide an air crane for fire-suppression support in San Diego County this fall. SDG&E has leased the aircraft for a three-month period, extending through November, with an option to renew the lease for the same period each year through 2016.
Erickson said the new deal relieves it of a variety of obligations, including its hourly costs for crew and support services.
The helicopter drew unwanted attention during the summer of 2011.
In June of that year, the Sun Bird was involved in two incidents during the installation of Sunrise Powerlink transmission towers in California's Imperial Valley.
The first came when the air crane dropped a tower 200 feet.
Four days later, the helicopter was placing the fifth of five towers near Plaster City when three of aircraft's four hooks released, forcing an awkward descent and causing the 15,000-pound tower to tip over on release.
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