Private operators are now performing search and rescue
(SAR) missions for oil companies—an assignment that was
once reserved for the military. The upshot is a growing
market for specialized aircraft.
Until now, the private sector has had no
role to play in search and rescue activities:
Depending on the country, SAR
work is usually entrusted to the air force, the
navy, the interior ministry or even the transport
In the last few years, however, private operators
have begun performing these public service missions. This
change is closely linked to very specific developments in the oil &
gas industry: Companies have begun drilling further and further from
the shore in areas that are no longer covered by national emergency
services. Private companies have therefore stepped in to take over
from or at the least provide support to military and public safety
The JIGSAW contract (see article, page 22) is a very good case
in point: Two AS332 L2 Super
Pumas based in the Shetland Islands
provide permanent SAR services
to oil companies in the North Sea.
This type of arrangement makes
very good sense from a financial
point of view, and will undoubtedly
be emulated. It also offers
operators flexibility: They can either
choose to allocate a helicopter to
SAR missions full-time or choose
optional equipment that allows
them to quickly reconfigure a
helicopter as needed for transport
or rescue duties.
In both cases, a private operator
can also make a return on a SAR
helicopter by leasing its services
to governments when required.
From an operational point of
view, governments have nothing
to fear: Major operators, especially
in the oil & gas sector, have
proven their capabilities in terms of
organization and training for many
This type of arrangement does
require a high level of cooperation
between the operator and
the government however, and in
reality, few countries are ready
to implement such an innovative
The United Kingdom is, once
again, the exception to the rule.
As the UK SAR program clearly demonstrates, the Ministry of
Defence is determined to outsource SAR missions to private operators.
Various operators are competing for this five-year contract,
which calls for a dozen or so helicopters.
This future contract alone accounts for an important slice of the
SAR market, which is now estimated at approximately ten specialist
aircraft a year. Only two or three sales a year were made in this
sector a decade ago, but aging military fleets and the growing
demand from oil & gas companies explain this rapid expansion.
Oil companies, governments and operators are looking for multipurpose
aircraft that can perform an extremely wide range of
missions. Eurocopter is in a very strong position to meet demand
with a comprehensive range of aircraft that can meet many different
needs in terms of endurance and payload.