Opinion: Bristow redundancies -A good pointer to the future of the UKCS?

Industry news
Opinion by Energy Voice

It’s not much longer than a year ago that the offshore helicopter operators were expressing real concern over the lack of experienced pilots being attracted into the industry.

At the time this problem was being blamed on the smaller number of trained personnel leaving the armed forces.

That particular problem has now solved itself but not – sadly – in a good way. The announcement that Bristow is to reduce their staff levels by 130 personnel which includes around 66 pilots implies a rapid reversal of fortunes for that operator and I’m sure others will eventually follow suit.

Some are now already asking – optimistically – what happens when the oil price moves back up and activity levels increase again. However, this move by Bristow tells me they don’t believe that’s going to happen anytime soon.

If they did then Bristow is a large enough organisation to hang onto at least some if not all of these 66 pilots perhaps by sending them on paid leave or redeploying them somewhere else around the world.

After all, it can take well over £100,000 and anything up to a couple of years to train a new pilot.

Bristow would be very aware of the costs and time involved if they needed to increase the staff numbers again.

Some of those being made redundant now may be happy to come back later but then they’ll be faced with the issues of revalidating licences and other qualifications unless they’ve managed to keep “current” in another job.

However, I would not agree as suggested by one over excited politician “that maintenance programmes and repairs will be put at risk” by these redundancies simply because Bristow – and the other operators – are subject to the same safety, inspection and maintenance procedure requirements as they were before these redundancies were announced.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the health of the helicopter services sector is a good indicator of the health of the oil and gas industry overall. These particular redundancies are said to have come about mainly as a result of the changes in shift patterns which have led to fewer crew changes which of course are themselves a consequence of the fall in the oil price and a general slowdown in offshore activity.

Consequently, today’s news is not encouraging because it suggests the industry is going to carry on getting smaller and perhaps at a faster pace than we thought. Worth keeping an eye on what the helicopter services sector do next then.