In case of emergency
Helicopter rescue seems like something you’d see in an action film, except emergency rescue is all too real and occurs all too often. So who are the people behind these services and what else do they do? Jonathan Jackson examines the necessity for compani
– Helicopter rescue seems like something you’d see in an action film, except emergency rescue is all too real and occurs all too often. So who are the people behind these services and what else do they do? Jonathan Jackson examines the necessity for companies such as CHC Helicopters.
Nick Mair’s Scottish brogue is unmistakable, as his dedication to CHC Helicopters, with whom he has grown since 1999. If there is one thing he knows, it is helicopters. He has been in the aviation industry for over 20 years. Yet it is a different facet of the helicopter industry in which he is involved: a very important service operation that saves lives and also links the isolation of gas and oil rigs and those working on them back to the land and waiting families.
Entrepreneur Craig Dobbin, along with a group of investors had the vision to put helicopters into the oil and gas markets. They created Canadian Holding Company (CHC) and went on an acquisition spree. While Dobbin no longer owns CHC, he made a smart decision and the business never looked back.
When Nick joined in the last year of the twentieth century, CHC had acquired Helicopter Services Group of Norway (including Bond Helicopters), Helikopter Service AS, Lloyd Helicopters of Australia and Court Helicopters of South Africa.
It was a great time to join and Nick worked through the company to become regional vice president for the Western North Sea Division following the integration of CHC’s European and global operations into a single Helicopter Services Division.
Tasked with leading CHC’s business units in the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark, Nick oversaw the oil and gas business and the search and rescue bases in Ireland and the UK.
Today he heads up operations in
Australia and South East Asia as the regional director Asia Pacific.
“Australia is a relatively new market, but the history goes back,” Nick says. “I put the longevity of this company down to its ability to provide solutions to our customers. More recently we have made bold decisions and predicted what helicopter types would be suitable to customer operations to enable us to get ahead of the game. And using the size of the company we can deliver cost effective solutions.”
Australia is obviously a natural fit for what CHC does. After the acquisition of Lloyd Helicopters, the core business of emergency services multiplied into sizable opportunities in oil and gas.
“We moved from Adelaide to Perth and closer to oil and gas producers,” Nick says. “It’s a market that will continue grow. Meanwhile because of the sheer size of the country there will always be a lot of opportunity in search and rescue. So from a strategic position, there is growth in both sectors.” So what exactly does CHC do? “We provide a critical service. Search
“We have enjoyed the close and open working environment that has been developed between both companies as we see it is an effective approach to doing business and we look forward to continuing to support CHC for their future endeavours” Sikorsky
and Rescue is always a service that is required and we have the capability to provide excellent service. You may just see a helicopter, however the skill and expertise of the people who provide the service is exceptional. Their experience and training gives customers a sense of comfort. On the oil and gas side, it is also a critical service because people can’t get back to shore quickly and safely without it. We have skilled pilots and engineers who can deal with any situation and that is a good place to be.”
Sometimes those situations are harsh. Australia is unfortunately renowned for its natural disasters and that’s where intense training stands CHC in good stead with its customers.
“It’s not only the people caught in these situations who are exposed. It is our pilots as well. However, they are trained to deal with most of the things they see. We have post event counseling services. We provide ongoing support. They are an amazing bunch of people and do a lot for the communities they are helping.”
There is a significant amount of training undertaken because a significant amount of skill is required, particularly when it comes to emergency services.
“We can’t simplify recruitment; it requires a significant level of skill and training, diligence in signing off people at various stages of highly prescribed programmes. They then go into live operations and fly with experienced personnel. The training ensures that pilots only go out when they have met the criteria.”
Emergency services are an important element of the CHC business, however in Australia oil and gas represents 75% of all business. The other 25% is divided between emergency service and maintenance and repair.
Managing the logistics of this is an impressive feat. Nick’s charter when he arrived in Australia was to enact
reasonably paced growth and implement systems, processes and structures to facilitate this. He had come from a more mature market in the UK and his experience was needed Down Under.
In his first year, his aim was to make himself visible. He made a pact to visit all bases around the country. He made it to all but one, however visited some bases multiple times. Geography in Australia is a challenge, but Nick recognised the opportunities.
To keep abreast of things when he’s not on base he engages in everything including conference calls within a significant communications network, but he understands that face to face contact is invaluable and attempts it as much as possible to enable employees to raise concerns.
In terms of communication, Nick is open and direct.
“There is no ambiguity. I am always calibrating messages so that I can gain a full-picture perspective. I will always be honest but I will sometimes give an answer people aren’t looking for. However it is the truth and the answer I stand by. This organisation is about transparency.”
As for growth, Nick says CHC is comfortable with the markets they operate in. There is no reason to drastically diversify, but should customers and supply partners have a request the organisation remains open-minded.
The suppliers and customers are important and their ideas equally so. They include helicopter manufacturers (CHC has 50 helicopters in the Asia Pacific region) and supply servicers for parts and components, which is a division within CHC.
The most important factor required from each partner is to ensure that CHC has the capability in its helicopters to meet the demand of the customers.
“That quickly narrows the field to a reasonably small number of providers,” Nick says.
CHC has lasted because this is a dynamic business and requires constant change management to stay ahead of the competition. It is the type of service that movies are made from, however it is far more serious than that. This is a business that affects lives and requires strong leadership and Nick, with the help of a very experienced and skilled team, delivers in spades and rotors. So, next time you see an emergency service helicopter in action, think of what goes on behind the scenes and thank your lucky stars that services like this exist.