When Mexico’s state oil company Petróleos de Mexico, or PEMEX, wants to transport workers or equipment to one of its myriad offshore oil rigs, it wants to do it safely, quickly, and dependably. Boats are slow and expensive, and in rough water they’re out of the question. Since at least the 1970s, however, there has been another option for fast, safe industrial transportation in Mexico: air.
Meet Aeroservicios Especializados S.A. de C.V., Mexico’s largest helicopter transport and service company and owner of the world’s second largest fleet of Bell 412EPs. This year, ASESA celebrates its 30th anniversary, making it the most experienced transport helicopter operator in the country.
During its 30 years doing business, ASESA has grown, invested, and trained relentlessly to keep up with the new developments in the high-tech and delicate service of helicopter transport. Today sees a market more competitive than in the Mexico of 30 years ago, but with its primary customer – PEMEX – looking to expand to new depths, and its own reputation spotless after hundreds of thousands of hours of safe flight carrying millions of passengers, ASESA is in a position to make the next 30 years even more successful than the first.
Learning to fly
ASESA is part of the Protexa Group. It started out, humbly enough, with a single Bell 212 helicopter to meet the needs of the other divisions of the group (many of which provide services to PEMEX as well) along the Baja California coast. The year was 1977, and the Protexa Group was growing aggressively alongside the state oil company. ASESA began to extend its services in that direction, and things took off, so to speak.
First, it followed PEMEX’s Pacific Ocean exploration down the coast to Mazatlán, then to Punta Peñasco, Sonora. Parallel to that, ASESA opened operating bases on Villahermosa, Tabasco, and Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, staffed also with Bell 212s. In those days, said company CEO Humberto Lobo de la Garza, “the airlift business was a lot less complicated. Your job was just to get people and equipment to their destination – from point A, to point B.”
The market has since become more specialized. Helicopter transports need to be prepared to provide more and more specific services demanded by clients. In addition, they need to provide those services at higher speeds, lower costs, and greater distances. It’s no longer enough just to get to the destination: ASESA has to do it in record time. And as if all that weren’t enough, when it comes to flying helicopters, upgrading service by fudging on safety is obviously not an option. ASESA, it seems, had its work cut out for it.
The latest equipment
ASESA has since grown in several directions. For one thing, as required by the new needs for greater speed, distance, and efficiency, ASESA has constantly updated and upgraded its fleet. Those old, two-blade Bell 212s have been replaced with Bell 412EPs with four-blade rotors. Just four years ago, ASESA added another seven birds to its fleet, and today has a fleet of 17, the biggest in Mexico and one of the top fleets of that model in the world, Lobo de la Garza said.
The Bell 412EP is a twin-engine machine manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron, based in Texas. It’s a workhorse utility helicopter with the ability to operate under extreme conditions. As such, it is used in military and civilian applications all over the world. Bell 412EPs are capable of a wide range of missions, from transporting up to 13 passengers at a time, to hauling loads of several tons, to rescue work, to executive transport.
To keep such a hi-tech machine running safely, ASESA had to develop its own maintenance infrastructure. Its main base of operations is a 344,500-square-foot facility that includes hangers and platforms and is located in Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche. Two other bases are located in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and Dos Bocas, Tabasco. Reflecting it’s constant drive to invest and expand, ASESA recently opened up a new 54,000-square-foot base of operations at the international airport in Mexico City.
Training to match
Upgrading the equipment has also meant upgrading personnel. Lobo de la Garza emphasized that, more than anything else, ASESA depends on its 260 employees as its primary resource. The constant training means that ASESA has managed to secure a wide variety of both government and industry certifications.
On the ground, ASESA’s helicopter maintenance services have been certified by Mexico’s equivalent to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil, or DGAC. Bell Helicopter Textron has also certified ASESA as an authorized service center, equipped to maintain all Bell helicopters. In addition to maintaining its own fleet of helicopters, these certifications (plus its ample infrastructure)
mean that ASESA has been able to do a healthy business servicing other helicopters.
In the air, all that training has led to record-setting safety history and more flight hours and safe landings than any other company in Mexico. ASESA set a record of more than 150,000 offshore flight hours without accidents, and has amassed a remarkable 390,000 flight hours total. Just last year, ASESA’s pilots chalked up 22,000 flight hours, more than 180,000 landings, and the transportation of over one million passengers.
Growing with PEMEX
Since PEMEX is ASESA’s principle customer, as with much of the Protexa Group, ASESA has a certain interest in the trends within PEMEX. In the near future, PEMEX is expected to start undergoing intense expansion in its search for new oil reserves in deeper offshore waters, something that could provide more business for ASESA, but also a new challenge of adaptability.
“Whenever there’s new machinery on the market, we have to use it for our clients,” Lobo de la Garza explained, “adapt
ourselves to the equipment, specialize in it, train on it, and offer the service with the new equipment.” In the near future, just as in the last 30 years in business, ASESA plans to continue doing just that for PEMEX.
Thirty more years
Although PEMEX is ASESA’s primary customer, it’s certainly not the only one. Like the helicopters it uses, ASESA is extremely adaptable and offers a broad variety of services in addition to the typical ones it provides to PEMEX. Those other services include search and rescue, aerial fumigation, forest-fire fighting, filming and photography; air ambulance and any others that its customers can dream up.
If all goes according to plan, in the coming years ASESA will have not only more flight experience to offer its customers, but more available flight hours: Lobo de la Garza said ASESA plans to expand its fleet to 30 helicopters from the current 17. “The growth plan has always been aggressive,” he said. “We’ve been growing at an important rate in the last few years, and we would like to grow at that same rate in the next few years.”
At the moment, that growth is not slated to happen in the international market. Lobo de la Garza said that while ASESA has considered expanding to other countries, the time isn’t quite right. Still, with one of the biggest fleets in Latin America – as well as some of the best-trained personnel – the possibility remains out there, although after 30 years as a 100-percent Mexican-funded company, it’s unlikely that ASESA would accept foreign capital to make that happen. In the meantime, ASESA celebrates 30 years in Mexico, and looks forward to 30 more. Said Lobo de la Garza: “It’s an accomplishment for all the members of this organization.”