Offshore operator Bristow Group has more than trebled its commitment to the Airbus Helicopters H175, becoming the largest customer for the new super-medium rotorcraft with a total order of 17 units.
Bristow chief executive Jonathan Baliff says the company has struck a deal not only for the helicopters themselves, but also for an “airline-style” comprehensive fleet support services agreement with the airframer, a deal virtually unprecedented in the rotary-wing segment.
The signing on 4 March at HAI Heli-Expo comes six months after Bristow publicly called on manufacturers to follow the lead of commercial airlines and offer availability guarantees over the life of the helicopter’s service, says Baliff.
Both sides declined to confirm the terms of the support agreement, but Baliff says it “answers the call” that Bristow made at the Helitech event in the UK. “This is a real big step forward for the Bristow Group,” Baliff says.
Lifetime service guarantees are fairly common in the airline sector, but those aircraft seldom operate in conditions often seen by utility helicopters.
But Bristow has identified such packages as key to its future competitiveness, Baliff says. Months ago, Bristow announced that it would no longer “compete on safety”. Rather than using the company’s impressive safety record as a selling point to customers, Bristow decided to release all of its intellectual property regarding operational safety issues.
If safety is no longer a competitive advantage, Bristow would need to find a new strategy, and that pointed to the adoption of airline-style reliability agreements with manufacturers over the life of the products, Baliff says.
“As Bristow purchases helicopters in larger volumes, we look to partner with aircraft manufacturers who will step up to more comprehensive airline-style purchase and support agreements,” Baliff said during a signing ceremony at the annual HAI Heli-Expo show in Orlando, Florida.
“We commend Airbus Helicopters for being the first partner to proactively share risk and responsibilities and commit to work closely with Bristow throughout the entire life-cycle of aircraft ownership.”
The operator has previously announced plans to rationalise the composition of its fleet from 21 types at present to eight within five years and five within a decade.
Given the company’s renewed enthusiasm for the 7t H175, alongside an orderbook featuring the H225, AgustaWestland AW189 and Sikorsky S-92, a long-term question mark may surround the S-76D. Although Baliff praised the performance of the Sikorsky medium-twin during a 26 February event in the UK, the type has yet to enter operational service with Bristow.
Other helicopters may also be under consideration by Bristow. Baliff was briefed on the new H160 during a visit to Airbus Helicopters' Marignane headquarters on 25 February, but declines to offer an opinion on the new 6t type.
However, he says he is "impressed" by Airbus Helicopters chief executive Guillaume Faury and the "transformation" he is undertaking at the manufacturer.
"I really like where Guillaume is going with the concept of life-cycle support, whether that's on the [H160] or whatever," he says.
Deliveries of Bristow’s new H175s will begin in October 2016, with the aircraft configured for oil and gas support operations in a 16-passenger layout.
“The order underscores the H175’s position as a rotorcraft of choice for oil and gas operations, which offers a cost-effective solution with excellent operational performance, passenger comfort and safety,” says Faury.
“Additionally, the new support services agreement with Bristow further underscores our customer support focus for the highest levels of fleet serviceability, backed by the full resources of Airbus Helicopters across the globe.”
So far three H175s have been delivered: two to Noordzee Helikopters Vlaanderen in Belgium and one to Russia's UTair.
Additional reporting by Dominic Perry in London and Stephen Trimble in Orlando