Safe in the air

Heli-One is a worldwide MRO provider with several locations. LSA has interviewed the Managing Director of the Norway facility about its current activities

Decades of expertise have helped Heli-One grow into the largest independent maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services provider within the helicopter industry. Tracing its history back to 1956 when it was set up as Scancopter, the business has undergone significant transformations ever since. Renamed to Helikopter Services shortly after its formation, the company then relocated from Oslo to Stavanger in 1969 to serve its clients’ needs after Phillips Petroleum Company had found oil in the North Sea five year earlier. In 2000, Helikopter Services’ maintenance division was separated from the operations department and was named Astec, and in 2005 was renamed to Heli-One. Today, the business has agreements with all the major OEMs, such as Airbus, Leonardo, Bell, and Sikorsky, and provides maintenance to GE and Safran engines.

The oil and gas industry has played a major role over the course of Heli-One’s history. Until not long ago, the company, which has now risen to global prominence operating from offices in Stavanger (Norway), Rzeszow (Poland), and Vancouver (Canada), had 70 per cent of its business generated from within the oil and gas sector before the downturn experienced by the latter a few years ago. “As a result, the oil companies started to save money by reducing the number of flight hours and helicopters they were utilising, which pushed us to find new ways to maintain the volume of work across our shops,” remembers Tord Wilstrup Torgersen, Managing Director of Heli-One (Norway) AS. “We identified the military and defence sector as a very promising environment for the services we can offer and now it accounts for 70 per cent of our work.”

Owing to the excellent relationships it has established with OEMs throughout the years, Heli-One has been able to seamlessly make the shift to the military industry. Tord explains: “We have had longstanding partnerships with large names like Safran and Airbus, having, for example, delivered airframe services to the latter since the early 1980s. On the engine side, taking good care of Makila engines has been the bread and butter for us since 1989. All this experience we have been able to transfer to the military sector and we have lately secured a 13-year contract with the UK Ministry of Defence for the maintenance of 56 engines. We are also in the first year of a five-year agreement with the Spanish Army to cater for 84 engines.”

He goes on to explain how the oil and gas and military industries differ from each other, in terms of the requirements Heli-One needs to meet. “Before the downturn, the oil and gas companies were pushing for low turnaround times and cost was not seen as a major concern until lately. This posed a challenge for us and we had to introduce shift patterns and even work overtime to address their demands. It is quite the opposite with the military industry. Because of budget constraints, our clients from this spectrum are far more cost-conscious and how long it takes to repair the units is of less importance to them. As a result, we have steadied the pace of our work and driven down the costs associated with serving the more dynamic oil and gas environment.”

Thanks to the exceptional capabilities of its design department, Heli-One has been able to complete a number of challenging projects in recent times. Tord elaborates: “Our design organisation was the first outside the OEMs to be EASA-accredited 12 years ago. We are experts in conceiving complex designs and a recent example of this specialty put in practice was our involvement in upgrading the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) fleet of S-61 aircrafts with glass cockpits.

“We have also solved a problem for Babcock Scandinavian AirAmbulance (BSAA) who was experiencing a stretcher problem with its AW169 ambulance helicopter. It had to comply with medical transport best practices and it had to meet the high operational standards the company and crew demands. As a result, Babcock needed to find a new solution for this aircraft quickly to resume operation. We heard about the case and two months later we had the installation done and delivered to the customer.”

Infrastructure investment has also turned out to be a key focus area for Heli-One, which opened a new blade inspection, repair, and overhaul facility in late 2017, and is currently building a more modern engine test cell that is expected to open in November. “We have had a competence in providing blade support for a long time now, but last year, we decided to extend our capability in the sphere, by adding AS350 and H225 blades to our portfolio. There is a substantial change going on in blade manufacturing, concerning the materials being used. The fact that they are now increasingly composite-made makes them more difficult to repair, but we can rely on a highly-qualified staff to skilfully handle them,” Tord remarks.

Achieving a lower turnaround time is the main reason why Heli-One undertook the construction of the aforementioned engine test cell. “It will enable us to have a full control of the processes and, ultimately, make us more competitive. Furthermore, due to the increased volumes of work coming our way, we felt we needed a more up-to-date technology to perform the engine testing more quickly.”

The two latest facility developments are an expression of the company’s vision to continue growing within the areas where it feels strong and most comfortable. Tord concludes: “We still see huge potential in the market for certain helicopters, such as the Airbus AS332. Heli-One has just completed the sixth year of a ten-year contract with Bundespolizei and it is encouraging to us that they have purchased additional Airbus H215s, a clear sign that our services will be needed in the future. Finally, on the engine side, we will start looking to work with GE on obtaining more capability on the CT7 Engines.”

Heli-One
The largest independent MRO services provider in the helicopter industry
Works with all the major OEMs
Currently serves mainly the state military, police forces, and emergency medical sectors