Where now for helicopter support of offshore wind farms in Europe?

Where now for helicopter support of offshore wind farms in Europe?

2-Sep-2022 Source: HeliHub.com

The use of helicopters to support offshore wind farms in Europe is in a state of flux.

  • In years past, Babcock flew EC135s from both Lowestoft on the east coast of the UK and from Sandscale Heliport on the west cost – but both locations are now quiet.  The Sandscale operation in Cumbria was terminated nearly two years early.
  • In recent months we have seen German operator Wiking move into administration, and we understand that their British operation has now closed and is being liquidated. Both Airbus H145 helicopters – operating on UK CAA “TCO” (Third County Operator) approvals – returned to Germany and continue operating there.  It was noticeable that Wiking were not supported by Turkish parent company Kaan Air.
  • This week, NHV have closed their base at Midden-Zeeland in the Netherlands after Ørsted chose to support Borssele 1+2 Offshore Wind farm using Crew Transfer Vessels and not the NHV H145 helicopter.

There is a common thread – no helicopter support contract in Europe for wind farms includes a monthly standing charge. All operations are on an ad-hoc flight basis, and rely on the volume of flights and the will of the wind farm operator.  The examples above show this model is not working and the wind farm industry needs to learn from the oil & gas industry to avoid a “race to the bottom”.

The wind farm industry continues to grow, and the recent pricing challenges in the gas market demonstrate that the global economy should be looking to be more dependant on “green energy”, whether that be wind, solar, tide, wave or other non-hydrocarbon options.  The speed and point-to-point nature of helicopter operations also means that the carbon footprint of flying is less than using the maritime options, HeliHub.com understands.

Wind farm operators should commit to longer term contracts and monthly standing charges.  This will give confidence to helicopter operators and lessors alike, and would in turn mean lower rates being offered as this sort of commitment would ensure lower financing rates in our capital intensive industry.

Henk Schaeken, Managing Director at HeliService, confirmed to HeliHub.com that the German Bight area (off the northern coast of Germany) remains very busy and the volumes are encouraging, but developments have shown that there is not enough volume to support all operators. HeliService has also won the big TenneT contract from Wiking, which is expected to start on 1st January.

Schaeken also highlighted that an intentional diversification program gave him confidence in the future of HeliService, including a big increase in third-party maintenance, their first air ambulance operation in the UK and multiple BK117s supporting climate research in the polar regions. Earlier in 2022, his company also won wind farm support contracts in Taiwan and USA, and both of these include monthly standing charges to support multiple Leonardo AW169 helicopters.

The only remaining operational wind farm support contract in the UK is the CHC/UniFly joint operation out of Humberside. UniFly operates two Leonardo AW169s for this work, one of which has recently been moved from the German register to the British register to coincide with the UK CAA awarding them an AOC Air Operator Certificate.

Is the current model for helicopter wind farm contracts broken?

Are helicopter operators that desperate for work that they will enter a contract without a monthly standing charge?

Are there too many helicopter operators hoping to ride the wave of wind farm operations?

Will recent experience – see above – make a difference in Europe going forward?

 

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