AS global oil prices seem to have gone up to US$55 per barrel with a projection of getting to US$60 per barrel in 2017, there is sheer optimism that the business will pick up and oil and gas clienteles will increase and Bristow Helicopters has expressed plans to re-engage the services of the professionals it had to release during the decline.Managing Director, Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Limited and Regional Manager Africa and MiddleEast, Captain Akin Oni made this submissions when he gave a rundown of what the airline has been going through between 2015/2016 financial year.
According to Oni, the airline has also started to use this opportunity to refleet with brand new aircraft from the shelf stating that although they have had to ship no fewer than 13 aircraft to locations where they are needed, the airline is bringing in 4 new aircraft to boost their operations.
He also explained that once the oil situation improved as expected in 2017, the airline would start by re-engaging the services of those it has had to release because of the economic downturn stating that its staff were highly trained and were assets.
According to him, among the airline’s strides were the fact that Bristow reached a landmark agreement with the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) in July making it the only airline since April 1, 2016, that has achieved pay parity between its national and expatriate aircraft type-licensed pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers.
The airline also said that its fleet had reduced from 52 in 2014 to 23 as of today and that the airline has had to ship 13 of its Sirkorsky Helicopters because of the reduced business in the country but said that this has given it opportunity to bring in the latest model of 4 brand new Sirkorsky Helicopters that has kicked off its expansive fleet replacement drive.
Captain Oni said,” We are operating half of what we operated in 2014/2015 that is the level of impact of the down turn. In the last year we have had to ship aircraft out of Nigeria to use elsewhere and as you can see, the ramp is not as full as it used to be because from 52 aircraft we now operate 23 aircraft. However, the shipping of the 13 aircraft also has its upside as it has given us the opportunity to re-fleet with four brand new Sirkorsky aircraft .”
On local content development, the Bristow said it continues to recruit and train national cadets to qualify as pilots and engineers and it is the reduction in their business that has made it difficult for them to be in their core area of expertise.
Captain Oni however said that Bristow has devised a means to make the young cadets useful by rotating them among other relevant duties, meaning they will be well grounded in the entire operations of the airline.
He said,”On average, Bristow spends about US$250,000 (cadet pilots) and US$80,000 (cadet engineers) per annum on training its cadets until qualification as pilots or engineers. In 2016, we employed 37 recently qualified national pilots and engineers all of whom received Bristow sponsorship and support towards qualification. “
“Unfortunately, due to the depressed market conditions, we are unable to provide them with positions on our existing contracts. However, rather than release them, we have been able to provide them with other roles within our organization until such time as our activities increase.”
However, the Bristow boss stated that because of how bad the economic situation in the country is and the decline in the oil and gas industry caused by prices and activities of militancy in the oil rich region, the airline has had to take some measures to ensure it does not bleed out, including operations reduction.
He said,” As you all know, from the second half of 2014, the global oil and gas market has been in continuous decline. Nigeria has not been immune to this decline and we have witnessed a significant reduction in activity in the Nigerian oil and gas market.”
“ Because of the reduced level of activity, the requirement for aircraft and flight hours for offshore transport has also reduced, significantly. This is the reality that Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Limited and other aviation operators face today.”
He however stated that the downturn in the sector notwithstanding Bristow remains committed to operations in Nigeria with a focus on providing a safe and efficient service throughout Nigeria.
Due to the reduced activities in the oil and gas sector, the Bristow manager said the airline, like all other participants in the oil and gas sector, has had to reduce its staff numbers.
He said,” In 2015 alone, Bristow released 89 expatriate engineers and pilots. In addition, 26 support staff were also released in agreement with their respective Labour Unions, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), representing our junior and senior support staff. These releases were done taking into account the requirements of our clients.”
“In 2016, the activity levels continued to drop. As such, additional releases were inevitable. A further 29 expatriate engineers and pilots and 16 support staffs were released. In addition, and with much regret, 21 national pilots and engineers were released.”