Baku Azal Helicopter Airline (Azalhelicopter) is finalising a six-helicopter deal with Eurocopter for offshore oil-worker transport. The state-owned Azerbaijan aviation company is also negotiating with Bell for pipeline patrol aircraft, ahead of major extraction of its oil reserves.

Azalhelicopter started work last week on a new passenger terminal in Zabrat, 18km (12 miles) from Baku, and the company is concluding a deal for two Eurocopter AS332L2 Super Pumas and four EC155B medium twin helicopters for services to Caspian Sea oil installations. Deliveries of the aircraft are likely to start from August 2003.

According to Jahangir Askerov, director general of the Azal group of companies, Azalhelicopter will also need four Bell 427 light twin-turbine helicopters for pipeline patrol duties in the Azerbaijan sector of a new pipeline linking Zabrat with Ceyhan in Turkey.

Azalhelicopter expects to conclude the deal by year-end, with first deliveries starting by the end of next year.

Oil companies will share flights to manned rigs and drilling platforms in the region, which is estimated to have reserves of around three-quarters the level of Saudi Arabia. Several European and North American oil companies are operating in the Caspian, but the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic still accounts for 80% of installations.

Azalhelicopter flies Mil Mi-2 and Mi-8 helicopters. Askerov says the 12-seat EC155s will be used to transport workers to installations close to shore, while the Super Pumas will be required for oil rigs further into the Caspian Sea. Most oil-rigs are between 100km and 140km from shore.

According to Askerov, the Zabrat terminal, which has a 600m (2,000ft) runway, will be similar to those at Aberdeen, UK, with safety briefing rooms and customs clearance.

Source: Flight International