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Bristow Group

Bristow U.S.

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Bristow weathers storms in truest sense this year
Hurricane Zeta was the seventh major storm where Bristow had to evacuate workers off the platforms and then move aircraft in 2020, following the devastation from Hurricanes Laura and Delta and tropical storms.
Evacuating customers from an S-92 at Bristow's base in Houma, Louisiana.

Bristow had to evacuate people from offshore platforms and move aircraft out of harm's way at least seven times in 2020, setting a new record for Louisiana. It has been a very active hurricane season, and Hurricane Zeta hit Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane on 28 October, setting the record for most named storms in the state in one season. For Bristow team members in Louisiana, it has been an extremely busy season evacuating offshore workers in the Gulf of Mexico and then moving around 30-40 Bristow aircraft at its bases out of the path of the storm.

Hurricane Zeta was the seventh major storm where Bristow had to evacuate workers off the platforms and then move aircraft, following the devastation from Hurricanes Laura and Delta as well as tropical storms. Zeta ties Louisiana with Florida in 2005 with the most landfalls in any state in one season.

Kurt Covington, director of ground operations, manages the daily storm planning meetings and keeps up with the latest weather forecasts for each storm. Besides flight ops, maintenance and ground ops, the daily meetings also include representatives from legal, safety, finance and business development. “We all understand the risks and the things we should be doing. It is a true team effort to put this all together and make it happen,” he says. “It involves direct communications with getting our customers safely back in, and keeping ourselves adequately spaced before the expected landfall of the storm. We like to give ourselves 36 hours of cushion where we are done with our actions before the storm hits. My role is to keep everything synchronised and everyone communicating with one another. By having these daily calls, it eliminates hundreds of follow-ups calls and emails. Everybody has a stake in the call, and it is an open forum.

“We have had some storms this year where they are dragging debris such as convection and nasty weather well after the storm has passed. It is kind of like a tail behind the storm, and you have to wait for that to clear up.” He also cautions to never compare one storm to another; they are all different, he says. In his 31 years with Bristow/Era, this has been the busiest year ever.

Bristow director of operations Jason Glynn agrees this year is one for the record books in terms of activity but says the company's success would not be possible without the constant preparation and planning before each named storm even enters the Gulf of Mexico. “There are a lot of flights on the front end to get everyone in that has not been already scheduled. It then goes still for a couple of days and then a fallback to get everyone out again after the storm passes,” Glynn said. He says the number of flights does generate a little uptick in revenue, but there is also a period of two to three days while the storm is passing where no flights are occurring.”

The intensity of the storm and the cone of error often impacts planning. “We will push aircraft to Lake Charles and to Texas because usually the west side of the storm is better weather-wise. That has been our strategy for most of the year, particularly diverting to Conroe in Texas since it is 100 feet above elevation and by the time the storms get there, they have petered out. Conroe also has enough hangar space for our aircraft.”

For a storm like Zeta, the team flew some aircraft to Abbeville and Lake Charles. “We try to use our own bases when we have to evacuate an area because we already have our own technicians, fuel and services and in some cases even housing there. But right now, with the damage and no housing from Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, the crews stayed in Conroe instead,” Glynn said.

“When you try to move 15 to 40 helicopters you have to think about the base support, maintenance, tooling and parts. If we can make one jog to the west and be done, we know that the chance of having to move again is so unlikely and the crews will be rested and relaxed,” Glynn said. “There is a rhythm to it and when you put these aircraft in the hangar, it is a lot like playing Tetris since they don't have these vast hangars just sitting around. You really have to stack and pack them.”

After the storm passes, the helicopters and personnel redeploy back to Bristow's Gulf Coast bases to begin transporting workers back to the platforms after the customer assesses them for damage.

“It is a fine line where you move aircraft, and we just need to open the channels of communication up with our customers, so they understand why we have moved our aircraft to a particular location,” Glynn said.

“The first thing we do whenever a storm is predicted; is we look at all of the scheduled maintenance coming due on the fleet. We start cleaning it up in advance and try to get it done early. That way when our customers want to evacuate, the aircraft are not due any maintenance,” adds Ben Hulshoff, director of maintenance. “Once that is all cleaned up, we get all our passengers back to the beach. Whether we are doing the maintenance at Houma or a remote location, our standards are not going to change so we are going to take maintenance stands, tools and computers, and will load up a cargo truck with everything we need. The aircraft fly out and most of our technicians will drive to base and would perform the maintenance the same as we would in Houma.”

After the storms passes, customers will want their workers back on the platforms as soon as possible. “We make sure all the aircraft are ready to go and follow them back to the base once it opens back up. If an aircraft is in maintenance and is not flyable, then we have a decision to make. Either we leave it where it's at, or we have to get trucks to haul it away,” Hulshoff continues. “We pay special attention to the big iron: S-92s, AW189s and AW139s. You have to closely evaluate it.”

“We never stop learning from these storms, and every year we will summarise those lessons learned at the end of the year. Those are the things we will discuss next season,” Covington concludes.

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