LONDON – Bristow says plans for the company to take on the U.K.’s search and rescue helicopter capability are "on schedule and on budget."
In announcing the helicopter operator’s first-quarter results in Houston on Aug. 4, Jonathan Baliff, Bristow’s new president and CEO, told analysts that construction work on two of the new bases at Inverness and Humberside airports was already well underway and that both would be operational in the first quarter of 2015, with other bases at eight other locations around the U.K. following later.
In spring 2013, Bristow signed a £1.6 billion ($2.46 billion) deal with the U.K. Department for Transport to provide helicopter search and rescue services for up to 12 years as part of the U.K. government’s so-called Long SAR contract. Bristow will use a mixed fleet of 22AW189s and S-92s to service the deal from 10 bases at civilian airports and airfields across the U.K.
Two aircraft, one of each type, will act as spares and be used for training. Bristow plans for the SAR fleet to be of mixed ownership, with around 40% wholly owned by the operator and 60% leased. Lease financing of the S-92 fleet should be complete by the third quarter of 2014, while financing of some AW189s will be complete in early 2015.
In the run-up to the new contract, Bristow also walked away with the contract for the U.K. Gap SAR contract to provide SAR services operating four SAR-configured S-92s from Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides and Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands. Gap SAR operations began in July 2013, and Bristow crews have carried out around 340 missions and rescued or assisted 320 people, according to Baliff.
Baliff says the company is taking inquiries from around the world regarding the provision of SAR services similar to those being delivered to the U.K. government and also to oil and gas companies. The company says there are a number of SAR business opportunities covering 16 aircraft in the public and private sectors.
Meanwhile, the company’s oil and gas operations in Europe are facing challenging times as the company and its competitors deal with the introduction of new safety regulations by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under CAP1145. Restrictions introduced in June mean that flights cannot take place if the sea state exceeds that of the helicopter’s ability to stay upright after ditching. Most modern oil and gas support helicopters are designed to deal with conditions up to Sea State 6. But new passenger emergency breathing devices are being introduced across North Sea operations later this month in time to meet the CAA’s deadline of Sept. 1.
Training of oil workers with the new equipment has already begun
"We expect most locations to have these devices in place come the deadline on September 1. There is a possibility that some passenger capacity restrictions may be necessary, which may lead to additional flights being required by us and our competitors," Baliff said.
In South America, Baliff said the company was preparing for a major expansion in Brazil, where state-owned Petrobras was tendering for up to 31 helicopters between mid-2015 and mid-2016, 16 of which would be operated on long-term contracts. Baliff added that the company’s Lider Aviation affiliate, based in-country, would be positioning itself to win some of those contracts.