Race for oil spurs growth for Thai Aviation Services

Company uses fleet of 9 S76s to provide lifeline to rigs in SE Asia.

Deputy Managing Dir & Dir of Flight Ops Capt Craig Havas (L) and Chief Pilot Capt Nattapat Pongsatitvittaya. Havas earned his helicopter license as a civilian, while Pongsatitvittaya is a product of the Thai military.

He started out as a first officer before earning his captaincy. Eventually, he was offered the position of assistant chief pilot before becoming chief pilot in 2010. Pongsatitvittaya has over 4000 hrs TT, 3000 of them on the S76.

He says, "My focus is on our pilots, with emphasis on training and scheduling. One of the things I have done is institute a system whereby we will never have a new captain flying with a rookie first officer. Simulator time is important, but Thai regulations require a certain amount of training on the actual aircraft.

I work closely with Craig to develop training procedures and ensure that our standards are maintained. One of my greatest challenges as chief pilot is dealing with situations that we've never seen before, and coming up with a plan of action to prevent recurrences."

Growth potential

The resources buried under the Gulf of Thailand consist predominantly of natural gas. Havas says, "Natural gas is the fuel used to generate much of the electricity in Thailand, and drilling activity is expanding throughout the region at a rapid pace.

We see a potential for additional work out of Cambodia and Myanmar. Our goal is to be the provider of choice. We'd like to see a fleet of between 15 and 20 aircraft of the larger twin-engine type stationed in these 3 countries."

Thai Aviation Services is actively looking for qualified helicopter drivers. Chief Pilot Pongsatitvittaya explains, "We have approximately 70 pilots flying for us. Of those, roughly 40 are Thai nationals who are employed by TAS, and 30 are expats coming to us primarily on contract through CHC.

Since we are a Thai company, our long-term goal is to have all of our pilots as Thai nationals. In the meantime, we are looking to direct-hire foreign pilots, especially if we are able to win some additional work in the region."

NST Base Mgr Sean Tucker (L) and Senior Engineer Daryl Dixon work together to make TAS's primary base tick like clockwork.

Havas adds, "We're only hiring captains, and in order to be considered they must have a minimum of 4000 hrs TT, at least 2000 of which must be in large twins. They should have at least 1000 hrs of offshore experience. We're looking for mentors and coaches to help in our nationalization program, so they need to have significant experience and a training background is preferred."

In support of its goal of 100% nationalization, TAS also has an ab initio training program to bring Thai nationals on board as helicopter pilots. Pongsatitvittaya says, "We selected 9 candidates in 2012 out of more than 400 applicants. Many of these candidates came from a professional background. Our ab initio candidates are sent to Canada for training, after which they come back to us as junior first officers."

He adds, "The selection process is very rigorous and demanding. We use a similar process to the major airlines. This program requires significant investment by the company, so we have to be sure the candidates have what it takes to be successful offshore helicopter pilots."

Fleet dilemma

Communication Center at NST keeps an eye on all TAS aircraft using Skytrac satellite flight following, which gives operator and customer instant information about the location of all helicopters.

While TAS currently operates an all-S76 fleet, Havas indicates that this is likely to change. "Our aircraft selection is customer-driven," he explains, "and we're working with our customers to find the right helicopter to meet their needs.

For over 20 years, the S76 has been the staple of offshore transportation in this region. It offers an excellent combination of payload and passenger seat mile cost. However, the offshore market is growing here, and our customers are seeing the need for greater capacity."

However, in looking for new larger aircraft, the company has to juggle some perplexing numbers. As an example, TAS flies regularly to some 55 sites out of NST, moving more than 110,000 passengers a year. In addition, 4 of the landing pads will not support larger aircraft.

This may force TAS to operate a mixed fleet of aircraft. Havas says, "We are working closely with one of our customers to bring an AgustaWestland AW139 into the fleet later this year. The S76 market is tightening up and the 139 fits our customer's capacity requirements.

Down the road, we're also considering aircraft such as the AW189, the Eurocopter EC175 and the Sikorsky S92. Again, they cannot be operated into all of our destinations. We are engaged in ongoing conversations with manufacturers and customers to come up with a good fit."

Onsite at NST

TAS's operational and maintenance base is at NST. Sean Tucker is the base manager and has overall responsibility for running an airline-type operation for the company's largest customer. Tucker was working as a dispatcher for CHC in his native Canada when he was selected for pilot training under CHC's ab initio program in 1990.

He flew primarily Bell 212s for CHC, much of the time in northern Canada and a tour in Somalia. He was promoted to base manager in New­foundland in 1996, later also serving as base manager at YHZ (Halifax NS, Canada) until that contract ended in 2011, coinciding with the opening of TAS's base at NST.

Tucker works closely with the base manager of TAS's customer to organize and coordinate schedules. He says, "At our customer's request, we've established an airline-type security screening process and our facility includes an airline-style terminal. The majority of our flying consists of bringing workers to and from the manned platforms, and our flight schedule is operated to maximize capacity and efficiency. Payload utilization is consistently kept well above 90%."

Recognizing the inevitability of adding a new type of aircraft to the TAS inventory, Tucker is already anticipating the challenges that this will present. He says, "Thai Avation Services is committed to the goal of 100% nationalization among its employees—or at least close to it. As it stands now, our ratio of nationals to expats among our 43 licensed aircraft engineers is around 60:40. Bringing in a new aircraft type means sending our AMEs to school.


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