Bristow Helicopters has begun offering the AgustaWestland AW189 to its oil and gas customers in the North Sea region.

The company, which has ordered six of the type for the offshore support mission, has been demonstrating the aircraft to customers since July 30 using one of AgustaWestland’s pre-production aircraft at Norwich Airport, U.K., one of the locations where the new aircraft is likely to be based once it enters service in early 2014.

Bristow is the launch customer for both the oil and gas support variant, and also for the U.K.-assembled search-and-rescue (SAR) variant. The company has ordered 11 of the SAR version to support the 11-year-long “Long SAR” contract to provide rescue helicopters for the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). Operations on that contract will begin in 2015.

Mike Imlach, director of European operations for the Bristow Group, says he expects to be able to offer the AW189 for operations for oil and gas customers at the beginning of 2014, once certification and training are completed. The company also is installing an AW189 flight simulator in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 2015. Certification of the oil and gas support mission aircraft is expected during the next month.

The AW189s will replace the aging Eurocopter AS332L Pumas — known as Bristow Tigers — which the company had hoped to retire in 2012. However, Bristow was forced to reactivate several of the type in response to the grounding of the EC225 beginning last October.

Bristow will use a mixed fleet of 22 AgustaWestland AW189s and Sikorsky S-92s operating from 10 bases at civilian airports and airfields across the U.K. to support the SAR contract. Two aircraft will act as spares.

The AW189s will be built at AgustaWestland’s facility at Yeovil, England. Bristow expects the SAR version of the aircraft to be certified in April or May 2014, but Imlach points out that the company does have a contingency plan to use AW139s configured for SAR should the AW189 not be ready for service in time.