FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Race for oil spurs growth for Thai Aviation Services
Company uses fleet of 9 S76s to provide lifeline to rigs in SE Asia.
By Jay Selman
Thai Aviation Services supports its customers by providing transportation to offshore natural gas facilities. TAS is also on call 24/7 to provide medevac services.
Thailand is a country rich in offshore natural gas assets and, just as elsewhere in the world, helicopters are a necessity for companies in the business of extracting those assets. For over 25 years, Thai Aviation Services (TAS), of which CHC is a minority shareholder and partner, has been in the business of supporting these companies.
Formed on Dec 24, 1987, TAS was the very first pioneer in aviation offshore support operations in Thailand. Today the company provides service to the petroleum concessionaires in the Gulf of Thailand with a total of 9 Sikorsky S76 helicopters—an S76A++, an S76C+ and 7 S76C++s.
TAS's primary base of operations is at NST (Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand), in the southeast of the country some 375 miles from Bangkok. The vast majority of flying out of NST is in support of 1 major petroleum company. A smaller base is located at UTP (U-Tapao, Thailand), serving 2 smaller customers.
Most of the company's flying is more or less standard for offshore work, ferrying workers to and from its customers' production and exploration platforms, living quarter platforms, and floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessels in the upper and lower areas of the Gulf of Thailand.
This includes facilities along the territorial waters of Thailand's neighbors, such as Cambodia and Malaysia. Occasionally, TAS's S76s are used for medical evacuation, as well as ad hoc charter work ranging from VIP transport to movie filming.
TAS flies to approximately 40 fixed rigs and another 15 floating platforms. One helicopter is on standby as a medevac vehicle 24/7, although this service is not used on a regular basis.
The company also performs occasional search-and-rescue (SAR) duties when needed. With some 3000–4000 people working offshore, TAS Dir of Flight Operations Capt Craig Havas believes that this sort of exposure warrants a dedicated aircraft to serve all the customers in both medevac and SAR roles. He notes, "It would be nice to have one machine outfitted with FLIR and night winching capabilities, available to all of the drilling companies in the Gulf, thus increasing efficiency."
The greatest challenges of offshore flying in the tropics are dealing with the high temperatures and humidity and their effects on aircraft performance. TAS Chief Pilot Capt Nattapat Pongsatitvittaya adds, "Thunderstorms can pop up in a heartbeat in this region, and our pilots must maintain a high level of situational awareness, especially pertaining to alternates.
We don't necessarily have to fuel for roundtrip flying, as several of our rigs have fueling capability onboard, although we always carry fuel for an onshore alternate."
He notes that TAS is the first operator in Thailand to introduce EFBs in the form of iPads. "They contain all documentation—approach plates, rig information, flight planning, etc—and eventually will replace the traditional 'brain bag'. We're still in the formative stage of this project, but so far implementation is going well."
He also notes that TAS uses Skytrac satellite flight following, which gives both the operator and customer instant information about the location of all helicopters.
The front office
Thai Aviation Services' current fleet consists of 9 S76s. The S61s pictured here are now gone.
Havas wears 2 large hats as both director of flight ops and deputy managing director of Thai Aviation Services. Havas, who was born in Canada and raised in Australia, got into flying helicopters in a unique way. He recalls, "While in Australia, I was working on a cattle ranch and we used helicopters to assist in rounding up cattle.
It didn't take long for me to realize that I'd rather be looking at cattle from above, and I decided to learn how to fly helicopters. After getting my helicopter ticket, I worked on cattle ranches around Australia before gaining employment with British Intl Helicopters in Aberdeen, Scotland, flying the Sikorsky S61 in the North Sea for a couple of years.
I then returned to my native Canada and landed a job with CHC in 1991, also flying S61s. I was immediately stationed in Thailand."
Havas flew for CHC in various countries around the world, including Thailand, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Brunei and Namibia, until 1999, when he left CHC for a few years. There followed a number of jobs in several countries for various operators, before moving back to Canada in 2001 as Chief Pilot for Blackcomb aviation in BC, flying heliskiing, mountain rescue and firefighting.
In 2005 he returned to CHC as the base manager in Angola. In 2007, Havas was promoted to deputy director of flight ops for TAS, and gained his current title a year later. Captain Havas still tries to get out and fly the line once a week, and has logged over 10,000 hrs in a variety of rotary-wing aircraft, including the S76, S61, Bell 206, Eurocopter AS350, Hughes 300 and Robinson R22.
Pongsatitvittaya has been TAS's chief pilot for 2 years. He graduated from the Thai Naval Academy and went on to earn his wings at the Thai Army Aviation School. While in the Navy he flew the Hughes 300, Bell UH1H, 214 and 222, and the S76. After 8 years in the military, he flew out of Phuket in southern Thailand for a short time before joining Thai Aviation Services in 2004.