Bristow Group is considering placing an “airline-like” order for a substantial number of new helicopters as the global rotorcraft operator uses the current downturn in the oil and gas support sector to reshape its buying patterns.

Typically the Texas-based firm has ordered “in 10 batches” says president and chief executive Jonathan Baliff, but it is now re-evaluating the way it acquires helicopters.

Speaking on a results call on 6 February, Baliff said the change had been under consideration for some time.

“And we really do want to look at this downturn as a way to really change the way we at Bristow purchase our aircraft into a much more airline-like large aircraft order,” he says.

Baliff’s comments were echoed by those of his chief operating officer, Jeremy Akel, who says Bristow is looking to “make a decision on a significant investment in our fleet future at an appropriate time during this downturn”.

AW189 Bristow

Bristow Group

Although tumbling crude oil prices have led many of Bristow’s customers to cut back on their exploration and production activities, Baliff believes the downturn will only last for around “12 to 24 months”.

Meanwhile, says Akel, the lack of near-term production availability at the major helicopter manufacturers is beginning to ease. However, he cautions that this may just be a “blip” and the long-term demand for heavy aircraft will return to previous levels.

In the meantime, there continues to be “incremental asks” from customers for helicopters in the medium and super-medium categories, adds Baliff.

Bristow is additionally working towards the start of its 10-year contract with the UK government to take over search and rescue (SAR) activities from the military using a mixture of AgustaWestland AW189s and Sikorsky S-92s.

First Bristow SAR S-92

Bristow Group

The first bases covered by the deal at Inverness and Humberside go live on 1 April and Bristow is “on schedule and on budget” says Akel.

Over its next financial year – beginning on 1 April – some seven new bases will be completed and 14 aircraft will enter service.

According to its financial statements for the quarter ended 31 December 2014, the company had a total of 37 helicopters on order – 10 medium, 16 heavy and 11 SAR-configured – with a further 39 covered by options.