National Grid, the British-based infrastructure company, has for some years owned and operated helicopters in their own right and not leased in this specialist skill. This began back in 1985 with the purchase of a new Eurocopter AS355F1 Twin Squirrel and has developed with later versions of the AS355.
More recently, National Grid decided to move away from Eurocopter and bought a Bell 429 G-RIDB which we wrote about in this article. Once this helicopter is online, National Grid will be disposing of their AS355N G-LINE, while retaining the more recent AS355NP G-RIDA.
In discussion with HeliHub.com, a spokesperson from National Grid told us that no other aircraft are on order, although it seems most unlikely that they would move from Eurocopter to Bell without having a longer-term aim of going to an all-Bell fleet. Time will tell.
The move away from Eurocopter as an aircraft supplier has also led to a move away from Oxford Airport, the base of Eurocopter UK. While the move is not geographically significant, National Grid are moving 20 miles to a new base at Turweston Airfield, and have taken the lease on the hangar there previously occuplied by the Bill Gwynne Rally School. The hangar is currently being refurbished by the airfield owners prior to the actual move.
The new location brings with it another question – why do they need that much space? One potential answer – which National Grid denied to HeliHub.com but is seen by industry professionals as quite likely – is that they will merge their current operation monitoring powerlines to include the gas pipeline work flown by third party operators. Back in 2002, the UK’s gas pipeline operator Transco became part of National Grid, but their air operations have continued to be kept separate. In recent years this has been a source of contention, with one operator ceasing operations, another operator finding technical issues with the helicopter type they chose to use, and so on. The potential to take this contract in-house must surely be under consideration.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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