Team Eket Provide Unique Flying with S-76Ds
January 08, 2020
One of the distinguishing traits of the Bristow team at the Eket base in Nigeria is that not only do they fly daily offshore and onshore personal transport flights but also provide winch and under-slung operations with their fleet of S-76Ds.
Eket is the first base to operate the S-76D Models within the group, which has been operational since 2017 and is the only operation using the S-76D for winch and under-slung load (USL) operations. With a current fleet of four aircraft, they only have about 5,600 airframe hours between them, which makes them one of the youngest in the fleet.
Besides crew transfer and USL, Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Ltd. (BHNL) Eket Operations is also contracted for helicopter hoist operations (HHO) and helicopter aerial rescue kit (HARK) capabilities with aircraft and crews providing the emergency capability to hoist personnel and fly the TC3 equipment for oil spill dispersant. In addition, the team is occasionally tasked to under-sling important loads for the client to both onshore and off shore installations.
For instances when casualties are in the water and cannot be hoisted, they have the capability to drop life rafts in the form of HARK. To achieve these requirements, two S-76Ds have been modified with a sliding cabin door, cargo hook and the ability to fit an electrically operated hoist. Day-to-day operations see these two helicopters on the line at Qua Iboe Terminal (QIT) configured for crew transfer, but for training and when called for by the client, they can be configured to support those missions as required.
“As part of HARK, the team can drop life rafts that automatically inflate when they contact the water, so that casualties in the water can escape the seas inherent dangers before being picked up by either vessel or helicopter,” said Kerry Parker, Chief Aircrewman/Technical Instructor.“Our operation, based in QIT, transports an average of 5,400 personnel per month with 166,413 pieces of baggage while covering an average of 880 sectors,” said Chief Engineer Pavlo Igori, with some flights only five minutes while others are 45 minutes away. The operation is located on the coastline of the Gulf of Guinea merging with the Atlantic Ocean, in the oil producing state of Akwa-Ibom.
Helicopter Hoist Operation
“Occasionally, we get to transport cargo, by under-slung. When there’s a need for the client to have a critical item delivered offshore, so as to avoid disruptions in their production operations, an aircraft is re-rolled to carry out the task,” said Pavlo.
For hoisting, this entails removing most of the cabin seating and installing the hoist to the right-hand side of the aircraft. The hoist is controlled by a winch specialist in the cabin via a pendant controller but can also be operated by the pilots. The cabin seating is re-configured to save weight and allows easy movement within the cabin. This ensures the fine tuning of position is coordinated by the winch specialist at the door using “patter” developed for search and rescue. In fact, it is the same as used by our colleagues for UK SAR.
For hoisting personnel, number to be hoisted, weight, from what installation/vessel, obstructions and hazards must be briefed as well as how the lifts will be achieved. To be safe and efficient, these skills are taught and practiced regularly. Co-ordinating the correct crews with maintenance requirements takes planning, with most training only taking place during the weekends when either of two aircraft can be spared. However, the team remains ready 365 days a year.
“All of these sorties be they for training or tasking are demanding on the entire team, both on the ground and in the air. But they are also very rewarding,” added Kerry.
Spill Response Lifts
Each sortie must be briefed in detail taking into account things like the size of the spill, wind speed, distance from base, additional assets and availability of the dispersant and crews to refill the equipment. As with all hoisting sorties, USL sorties must conform to a very rigorous risk assessment that take into account the additional hazards associated with personnel and equipment suspended below the helicopter. “Safety is our number one priority and we always fly with this in mind, sometime environmental conditions dictate the carriage of less fuel requiring shorter sorties,” added Kerry.
“We have a cordial relationship with our client. Operating from the client’s base means there is a direct link between the chief pilot and their aviation superintendent,” said Chief Pilot Captain Zulufik Oshomah. “Apart from the daily routine of scheduled flights where we also operate to the client’s field in the neighboring city of Port-Harcourt, we carry out emergency medical evacuations from offshore platforms.”
He adds this means an aircraft can be recalled from its scheduled program, re-rolled to a medical evacuation configuration and deployed immediately. “If there’s any requirement to fit in a stretcher, we can also comply. We also have HSE measures in place if there’s a need to lift passengers with communicable diseases. Crew are trained for this and for extra safety measures, HazMat suits are provided,” Zulufik said.
Medevac support is provided 24/7. “During close of day operations, we have a night rostered crew and an engineer who are on standby in the event of any call out. The night standby aircraft is repositioned to the client’s accommodation rooftop helipad. Of course, night training is also carried out to keep the crew current and in top form for emergency night flying,” Zulufik said.
The engineering A-Team, which is a nickname that was provided by the client, consists of experienced engineers and trainee engineers. “We have good support from the regions supply chain department in ensuring we get spares in good time,” Pavlo said. Prior to acquiring the S-76D models in Eket, the team had almost 60 years of experience with aircraft like the AS350s, Bell 212/412 and S-76C++ type aircraft.
All line maintenance, including engine replacements, are carried out at base level with the exception of the extensive D-Check (Heavy Maintenance inspections), which are performed in Lagos. “We have the capability to carry out basic repairs and inspections of a few components from aircraft wheels to main rotor spindles and inspection/replacement of engine fuel nozzles,” Pavlo said.
He adds it has been a bit of a challenge transiting from the analogue type aircraft to the current sophisticated avionics and instruments when the S-76D’s first went into operation.
One of the areas that Pavlo is very proud of is the mixed cultures from different nationalities that makes up the Eket operations. “We have had team members from North and Southern America, Europe, South Africa, the Far East, and as far as Australia/ New Zealand. It’s amazing how much we have learnt from each other and at the same time being in sync while aiming and achieving the same goal: zero downtime while achieving on time aircraft serviceability, safely,” he said. About 95 percent of team are of Nigerian origin, he adds, and this is a major accomplishment that took many years of working closely with the client and the Bristow regional senior management team.
“The operational environment has changed over the years. Not for the worse, but to adapt to the current climate change in the industry. We do day shifts as there is no night-time maintenance. The engineering team enjoy maintenance more during the rainy season due to the cool weather. While during the really hot and dry season (which is locally known as the harmattan season), the team always look forward to the neighboring beach after a hard day’s work to cool off,” Pavlo said.
BHNL is a joint venture in Nigeria in which Bristow Helicopters owns a 48 percent interest, a Nigerian company owned 100 percent by Nigerian employees owns a 50 percent interest and an employee trust fund owns the remaining two percent interest. BHNL provides industrial aviation services to customers in Nigeria.