Helicopter Mobilization Across the World

Helicopters, now used extensively in Exploration and Production Services, have also become one of the most critical components of the extensive Oil & Gas supply chain. Onshore or offshore, the industry relies heavily on helicopters for daily crew changes, precious cargo and 24/7 Medevac. This includes an ever growing list of other needs and requirements to maintain business continuity and safety. Therefore, helicopters are mobilized worldwide to their Oil & Gas installations.

The most frequent and safest option, for transporting aircraft valued at up to $50M, is by ocean freight in a RORO Vessel (roll-on, roll-off). This involves towing the aircraft on-board without rotor blades with re-assembly at the destination port. However, the easiest methods to get to that next operation is to ferry fly the helicopter if this is practical. Extremely versatile, helicopters can be shipped by air, sea or land.

As an example where timing has been crucial, air freight has been used for a Deep Water Exploration Vessel on the other side of the world. This may include a dedicated Antonov 124 cargo aircraft for multiple heavy helicopters, or, for small or medium helicopters, a Boeing 747 Freighter supplied by airlines like Cathay Pacific, Emirates Airline or Cargolux as examples.

Juerg Boschung, Head of Helicopter Shipping Division for PANALPINA remarks ”that in addition to using first class air carriers weekly for their precious helicopters, Panalpina also operates 2 of their own controlled Boeing 747-800 frieghters”.

Small helicopters like the AS350, Bell 407s and Jetrangers are often dismantled and shipped in closed, 40-foot containers. Medium sized helicopters like Bell 412s and AS365s can fit onto a 40 foot flatrack container. Larger helicopters like Sikorsky 92s, EC225s or AgustaWestland 139s are often mobilized on RORO vessels. While the shipping time is longer at sea, the costs are usually equally lower.

Kurt Kapota, Branch Manager Helicopter International Shipping Services remarked, “one of the most critical elements in this niche shipping trade is asset risk limitation and a high touch on the many documents required”. The latter is more critical today as we are drilling in new green fields across the world where governments and other supporting infrastructure are relatively new to the Oil & Gas Industry.

Considering that a rotor blade of a Sikorsky S92 is over $450 K USD and penalties for not being on site or unserviceable can be as high as $50K a day, helicopter operators and OEMs use highly qualified shippers.

Bristow Helicopters Australia moves their aircraft across the globe often. “This is both logistically challenging and expensive as each shipment is different, but the same detailed planning and use of MOC’s and Risk Assessments to ensure the aircraft arrive on time and un-damaged,” said Neil Seabrook Engineering Manager.

Frequently mobilizing and demobilizing across the world, helicopters are chasing Deep Water Drill Ships, FPSO’s and Seismic operations to that next project. With the deepwater capital expenditure (Capex) expected to surge in 2016, it can be forecasted that specialty Oil & Gas helicopters will not remain idle long before they are mobilized by air, sea or land.