Pilot pay dispute looks set to end in tri-national action by North Sea helicopter flight crews seeking parity

North Sea oil-support helicopter operations are threatened by a pilot strike involving Norwegian, Danish and UK operators. Norwegian and Danish pilots have voted to take industrial action over pay, and the results of a ballot by CHC Scotia, expected on 30 October, is predicted to affect more than half of British North Sea oil support capacity, according to the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA).

In the long-running dispute, pilots are seeking pay parity with fixed-wing pilots of similar experience. BALPA says captains with 10- years flying over the North Sea earn an average of £51,200 ($76,800) a year, while similarly experienced fixed-wing captains are paid an average £70,000.

Operators involved in the proposed action, for which no dates have been set, include CHC Scotia of Aberdeen, Scotland, CHC Denmark, and CHC Helikopter Service of Norway. BALPA says that talks with the operators continue despite the votes for strike action.


UK-based Bristow Helicopters, which supplies less than half the UK component of oil support flying, is the only major North Sea operator not involved in the action. Bristow this year agreed an 11% pay rise for its pilots to begin closing the pay gap. It is understood, however, that Bristow is already flying to full capacity, so in the event of other operators being grounded it would be unable to fill the gap.

BP says that its oil rigs would be able to continue operations for about two weeks without rotating personnel, which is the main task of the helicopter operators, and shutting down the rigs would be "the last option because it is time-consuming and costly to start operations again". BP adds that it would consider rotating rig crews using ships, but they are far more weather sensitive than helicopter operations.

Meanwhile, the UK's Bond Air Services is planning to re-enter the North Sea helicopter market. The enforced withdrawal came after the sale of Bond's offshore operation, Bond Helicopters, to North Sea operator Scotia Helicopters in 1999. As a condition of the sale, Bond agreed to stay out of the market for two years, during which time it has concentrated on building up its onshore operations, including police air support.

Source: Flight International