Helicopter operator CHC has unveiled a winch training facility to give its North Sea diversification drive a lift.
The facility lets offshore workers and engineers practice hoisting people and objects from helicopters while offshore.
CHC believes the offering will take the sting out of clients’ training costs by providing a cheaper, more reliable alternative to practicing live in a helicopter.
The firm is banking on the new service attracting customers from a range of sectors, including oil and gas, renewables, defence and search and rescue (SAR).
CHC Group and a number of its subsidiaries filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US in 2016 as part of efforts to repair balance sheets following the crude price collapse.
It took CHC less than a year to emerge from chapter 11, a process which saw the group cut its fleet roughly in half.
Mr Abbey said about 45% of the oil and gas market dried up for helicopter operators during the downturn, convincing CHC of the need to add strings to its bow.
The company is confident that demand for winching services will grow in the North Sea as more companies close oil rig helidecks in line with decommissioning plans.
The growth of offshore wind could provide another revenue stream.
Wind turbines tend not to have helidecks, but engineers can be lowered onto the structures using a winch, in many cases.
CHC developed a winch training programme, which had been certified by European aviation watchdog Easa.
While clients responded well to the training, many felt it was too expensive due to the need to book a helicopter.
CHC developed the new facility to tackle that problem.
Putting the simulator inside a hanger means CHC can guarantee customers a training slot, as it is not affected by weather or the availability of helicopters.
It also frees up a helicopter for CHC to deploy for other jobs.
The new facility has been installed at CHC’s hanger at Den Helder airport in the Netherlands.
CHC believes Den Helder is the best location for the training base, due to its proximity to mature oil and gas fields in the southern North Sea, and major offshore wind farms.
The company recently started work on a major renewables contract, flying workers and equipment to Orsted’s Hornsea 1 wind farm off Yorkshire.
CHC regional director Mark Abbey said the firm’s Aberdeen base could host a similar facility if there is enough demand.
The simulator has the same dimensions as AW139 aircraft, which are widely used in the UK North Sea and at Den Helder.
But training at Den Helder would equip workers to carry out a hoisting operation from all other offshore aircraft, including S92s and H175s, Mr Abbey said.
Unveiling a plaque at the base, Mr Abbey said: “We are delighted to see the new facility open and meeting the needs of new and existing customers. As a global helicopter operator, CHC has a long history of innovation, global standards and investment in new technology and this is a perfect example of how we continue to diversify to meet the needs of our customers across the SAR, oil and gas and renewables markets.
“We have already received positive feedback on the training from our launch customers, which included one of the major global oil and gas super operators.”
Mr Abbey also said CHC’s quick exit from chapter 11 was a fantastic achievement and that the company was ready to start moving forward.
He said: “We have been investing time and effort to improve what we do. We recognise we are still in a difficult market. It is showing some signs of recovery but the market is in a different place.
“We need to make sure we are sustainable and healthy. I’m sure will see ups and downs but we have made every effort to get the business to where it needs to be.”
Mr Abbey added: “It’s clear to us that our business is safety. We don’t compete on safety. We share everything we do.”