Norwegian Job: Tom Andreas Østrem's story

Norwegian Job: Tom Andreas Østrem's story

Two months ago he took home the prestigious Vertical Magazine Photo contest 2014 and he just launched a brand new blog about his job as a pilot and photographer: here's the interview

Nicola Zamperini

More than 9 thousand followers on Instagram, for a helicopter pilot, are a result that should not be underestimated. Tom Andreas Østrem has recently become something of a celebrity among helicopter fans: he achieved this brilliant result relying only on his work, on his eye and, of course, on a camera.

Two months ago he took home the prestigious Vertical Magazine Photo contest 2014 and he just launched a brand new blog about his job as a pilot and photographer. Do not call him professional: “I'm a self-taught and an amateur at best, I had no idea of being able to have a similar success online".

Tomas, 31, works for one of the leading helicopters company in Norway, among other things also engaged in the transportation of heavy loads. No wonder, then, that among his best shots (which you see on this page and in the photogallery below) there are the famous fjords and breathtaking views of Norway.

We spoke with him to understand how his passion for flying and for social media is born.

In the photogallery: Tom Andreas Østrem: living Norway in helicopter

  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem
  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem
  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem
  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem
  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem
  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem
  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem
  • Photo: Tom Andreas Østrem

Tom, let's start from you. Who are you and what do you do for a living?

“I'm a 31 year old helicopter pilot flying the AS350 in the utility role, employed by one of the biggest inland operators here in Norway, Airlift AS. Currently we operate 13 AS350B3s 2 AS350B2s, and an AS332C for the heavy-lifts. The Super Puma can also be equipped for LIMSAR. The base I am assigned to is nestled between a scenic Norwegian fjord and large mountain plateau on the west coast. One of the approaches to the base has us decending down three large waterfalls, a view that never gets old”.

What kind of aerial works do you perform?

“Norway has a lot of hydroelectric infrastructure in inaccessible places, so a lot of our flying is in support of that. We do everything from snow-surveys to flying concrete for new dams or other structures in the mountains. Powerline construction has also been one of our core markets the last 8 years or so. Here the helicopter plays a major role, being involved in every step of the contruction process, from pouring the concrete to tower construction and pulling the pilot-lines. Though we fly people and internal cargo from time to time, I am unquestionably happiest when performing longline operations”.

When did your career started?

“I guess it started with the same childhood dream that many kids have. But unlike the other kids who grow up and get real jobs, I was one of you guys who decided to stick with my dream and fly helicopters. I did my training here in Norway to be able to network while I was in training. I was lucky and landed a job as a loadmaster. Getting a job as a utility pilot means that most of us have to start out as loadmasters. I'm guessing most pilots here have spent about 3-5 years hooking loads and driving fuel before a position opens up and they are bumped into the right-hand seat. Our company exclusively hire our pilots from our pool of trainees, who are the senior loadmasters in pilot-training.  So when a position opens up the next trainee in line gets promoted”.

What is your favorite helo?

“This is a tough one, but I'd have to say the AS365 Dauphin, based solely on esthetics. That being said, the whole line of AgustaWestlands are really nice machines. Again judging purely on looks. Based on the types I've flown the AS350 has yet to let me down, it is a very versatile airframe”.

How is life as a helicopter pilot in Norway?

“I haven't flown anywhere else so it is hard for me to say how it differs. But there is no getting away from the fact that the weather can prove challenging at times. Combine harsh weather with winter operations and things get a lot more complex all of a sudden. The highest peak in Norway is only 8100 feet, so we don't do a lot of high altitude work, but the terrain is still very mountainous, so tricky winds are definitely a factor to consider. In our company we work a rotation that gives us roughly 14 days at work followed by 14 days at home. When we are at work we can spend a lot of time travelling all over the country wherever the job takes us”. 

How can the social media help spreading the importance of aerial work?

“Many are unaware of the work going on behind the scenes to build and maintain important infrastructure. A lot of aerial work projects take place in remote locations far away from the publics eye. Aviation is something that keeps fascinating people even in this day and age and letting people see what we do and share our passion is important to let people know the capacaties and the versatility of these machines. It can also help inspire the next generation helicopter pilots to ensure good recruitment to the industry”.

What is your dream as a helicopter pilot?

“The helicopter industry has so many areas that I'd like to explore. Flying a complex machine offshore is on the list, as is flying HEMS. That being said, at this time I am very happy doing what I'm doing and I don't see why I should do anything else until that changes. I am living my dream”.

Single or twin?

“Both. Replacing the AS350 or equivalent with a twin for longline operations isn't realistic unless the regulating authorities does something drastic to level the playing field. That being said I would like to see stricter regulations for certain operations involving passengers to be carried out by twins”.

What is the future of aerial work?

“Disregarding the long-term prospects of unmanned aerial vehicles I'd like to see helicopter manufacturers keep longline-pilots in the loop for future projects. Having an AS350-like helicopter with better downward visibility and a head-down display would definitely be very welcome”.

Your job is one of the most challenging in the helicopters industry.

“The most important work to be done though is increasing the level of safety. The implementation of SMS and risk managament will hopefully bring forth a higher level of safety across the industry. Creating a safety culture among pilots that help them make safe decisions is paramount. We need to make safe cool. We are professionals and should act like it, not like teens test-driving a Ferrari. I am blessed with having an employer that never second guess any decision I make. There are several examples of me getting positive feedback from my employer for declining to do a job because I wasn't comfortable with the mission parameters. That makes it easy for me to do my job safely, without the pressure of getting the job done at any cost”.