Canadian CHC Helicopters' Norwegian division, CHC Helikopter Service, is to phase out use of its five Sikorsky S-61N Sea King helicopters as transport for North Sea oil workers.

The offshore transport specialist sees the 35-year-old utility craft as slow and costly. They will be switched to search-and-rescue (SAR) duties elsewhere within CHC. Managing director Jakob Bae says: "Contracts with oil companies in the next two to three years will exclude the craft."

Possible S-61 replacements include: the Agusta Bell AB139; the Eurocopter AS332 L2 Super Puma, for which Helikopter Service is launch customer; and the larger twin-engined Sikorsky S-92. The company already flies 15 Super Pumas and three Eurocopter AS365N2 Dauphin 2s and a Bell 214ST. "Oil workers' unions are pushing for newer aircraft with larger cabins - 2004 will be a major negotiating year, as several contracts are up for renewal," says Bae.

Helikopter Service is due to bid for two Norwegian government SAR contracts next year.

Meanwhile, CHC Ireland has begun a third five-year contract to provide SAR operations in south-east Ireland using an S-61, while CHC Scotia is to provide offshore oil and gas operations for BHP Billiton and Centrica in the Irish Sea with two AS365N under a five-year deal.

Source: Flight International