The thump-thumping rotary sound you hear along the shoreline is Bristow soaring above and beyond the competition. The U.S.-based company, which provides helicopter services to the global offshore energy industry, boasts the world’s largest fleet. But that wouldn’t mean much if the company didn’t provide the safest, most reliable service. Dan Harvey takes you on an airborne trip above international waters.
In terms of fleet size, Bristow is the world’s largest civil helicopter service company. Currently, it boasts about 600 aircraft. The Houston-headquartered enterprise is also enormous in terms of scope, as it conducts business throughout the world. The company provides transportation and related services to the offshore energy industry.
“We are one of only two helicopter companies in our market area that are global,” says Mark Duncan, Bristow’s senior vice president, Commercial. “Most are local or regional. The largest of such companies may own only about 40 helicopters. So, considering scale, we are more than 10 times larger.”
Bristow’s primary focus involves transporting personnel from onshore locations to offshore platforms, drilling rigs and installations. “We also engage in some onshore work, but 95 percent of our business relates to offshore,” says Duncan.
This includes transportation of equipment to offshore sites. “But this involves light cargo only,” clarifies Duncan. “Heavier cargo is usually transported by boats.”
Bristow’s client list is as impressive as its large fleet and expansive business scope. It includes integrated, national, and independent oil and gas companies. “We work for all of the major oil companies such as Shell, Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Total,” reports Duncan. “We also serve the national oil companies that are becoming increasingly important, like Petrobras from Brazil, Statoil from Norway, and PEMEX in Mexico.”
However, Bristow does more than just transport employees and equipment. “We also provide search and rescue services and medical evacuation services, particularly in world regions that are without a sophisticated coast guard,” says Duncan.
Indeed, Bristow provides comprehensive, safe and reliable service – with particular emphasis on safety. While helicopters provide a unique aircraft safety capability – as copter pioneer Igor Sikorsky once said, “If you’re in trouble anywhere in the world, an airplane can fly over and drop flowers, but a helicopter can land and save your life” – Bristow is raising the safety bar even higher.
“We’ve set very stringent standards for ourselves,” emphasizes Duncan. “Our helicopters are not only very sophisticated, but they’re also outfitted with advanced safety equipment.”
The proof is in the numbers. “On a statistical basis, helicopter safety for offshore flying is about four times safer than other commercial helicopter activity, and Bristow is even four to five times safer when you statistically compare it to all offshore helicopter business,” points out Duncan.
Bristow distinguishes itself from the competition in several other significant ways. “Our size and business scope allows more efficiency of scale in terms of purchasing, logistics and supply chain,” indicates Duncan. “We’re able to easily move our helicopters around the world where necessary. If one regional market is depressed, we can move and deploy our aircraft in other markets.”
Further, if an aircraft presents a technical problem, the company can replace it very quickly. Thus, Bristow can confidently guarantee that energy industry workers get from shore to offshore and back again on time and in the safest manner. “Smaller companies have far less ability to match our level of reliability and responsiveness,” says Duncan.
Also, the company’s pilots can be deployed throughout the entire operation, a large consideration for an enterprise that, with its 350,000 annual flight hours, metaphorically helped shrink the world.
And no matter wherever in the world a helicopter is airborne, the company possesses the capability to track the aircraft from its technologically sophisticated operation centers. “At any point in the day, from anywhere in the world, we can tell you where our helicopters are in the air,” says Duncan. “In some regions, this can be done simply by calling the helicopter every 15 minutes, but we also have an advanced IT system network that is specialized for our activities.”
REVAMPED BUSINESS STRUCTURE
In January 2010, Bristow changed its business structure and now has an organizational model that involves global operations and new business. “We operate in about 20 different countries and further organized the company into five business units,” says Duncan, who is responsible for new business opportunities (for instance, wind energy installations).
The company’s structure includes businesses that are 100-percent owned by Bristow as well as joint ventures. Businesses owned by Bristow have 390 helicopters. Partners bring about 190 additional copters into the large fleet.
The five business units include North America (Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and Canada); Europe (the United Kingdom, Holland, Norway and Ireland); West Africa (Nigeria); Australia; and International, which essentially covers everywhere else, but particularly focuses on Brazil, Columbia, Trinidad, Mexico, Libya, Egypt, India and Malaysia.
The company, which has nearly 4,000 employees, also includes Bristow Academy, which provides helicopter flight training services. “It is the largest and best training school of its kind in the world,” says Duncan. “Essentially, anyone who wants to learn how to fly a helicopter can come to the school and become a pilot. The company also houses our own training simulators. This technology enables us to provide recurrent training and, in turn, ensure the quality of our pilots.”
In addition, Bristow makes available contract helicopter maintenance and training programs, a service that insures clients receive the highest degree of flexibility and the safest, most experienced flight and maintenance crews available.
Bristow’s history dates back more than 40 years. According to the company, the business began by providing helicopter services to the Gulf of Mexico through Air Logistics, which focused on servicing offshore projects in the oil and gas industry.
“Air Logistics was owned by a company called Offshore Logistics,” relates Duncan. “Offshore originally was a supply boat company. It eventually added air transportation services and sold its supply boats, to focus on air transport.”
Air Logistics expanded to become one of the largest helicopter transportation providers in North America, and it opened an Alaskan division to facilitate oil and gas projects in that area.
“Then, in the mid-1990s, Offshore Logistics merged with Bristow Helicopters Ltd., a company founded in the United Kingdom by Alan Bristow,” continues Duncan.
The founder was a British military pilot who became an innovative aviation businessman. His company became one of the world’s largest helicopter services businesses. Offshore Logistics’ acquisition enabled it to globalize its helicopter transportation services – expanding its coverage area throughout the North Sea, Europe and other international arenas.
Eventually, Offshore Logistics changed its name. Duncan explains why: “In 2006, in an attempt to unify the company globally, Offshore re-branded itself as Bristow Group, as the Bristow name was well recognized throughout the world.”
GROWTH AND INVESTMENTS
Since the name change, the company has experienced substantial growth. “Five years ago, we were doing about $700 million in revenue. Now, our revenues are about $1.2 billion. So, the business has essentially doubled,” reports Duncan.
During this growth spurt, Bristow also reduced the average age of the helicopters in its fleet. Five years ago, the average age was just under 20 years. Now, it’s about 10 years, according to Duncan. “We’ve modernized the fleet by investing heavily in new helicopters,” he points out.
So far, the investment comes to about $1.4 billion, but the hefty outlay is necessary, as Duncan describes. “In the offshore oil industry, many of the oil fields are being found in deeper waters farther from shore. The increased distance requires more sophisticated helicopters. So, we initiated an aggressive investment program.”
This underscores the company’s future direction: As its revenues increase, it re-invests profits back into the business to foster further growth.
Already, the company’s large fleet, experience and international presence provided unparalleled operational and geographic capabilities – and it’s now increasing the distance between itself and the competition.