Photo: Shell's Olympus platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Copyright: Mike Duhon Productions; Credit: Photographic Services, Shell International Limited

Shell picks helicopter operator for Gulf of Mexico

Oil major Shell has selected U.S. offshore helicopter operator PHI to operate four Airbus H160s to service a support contract in the Gulf of Mexico.

H160 helicopter PHI Rendering
H160 helicopter PHI Rendering

Announcing the contract on Monday, Airbus said it marks the entry into the oil and gas market of the H160 with design features promising new levels of safety, comfort and schedule reliability in offshore operations.

The three companies – Airbus, PHI, and Shell – are cooperating in a unique partnership.

Namely, Airbus will provide one H160 ahead of final deliveries to PHI and Shell for a year-long route-proving programme,

The goal is to enable the operator and the final customer to familiarize themselves with the helicopter type’s features and mitigate the normal challenges around entry into service.

At PHI, it will be based at Houma, Louisiana and join the company fleet of H125s and H135s deployed in emergency medical service throughout the U.S., as well as two H145s operating for Shell on pipeline survey work in Louisiana, and two H145s flying the world’s longest harbour pilot shuttle in Mackay, Australia.

Airbus Helicopters Executive Vice President Global Business, Ben Bridge, said: “We greatly appreciate the innovative thinking of our customers in formulating this partnership around the H160 which will begin a new era of safety, reliability and environmental performance in the medium class of offshore operations”.

PHI Aviation Managing Director, Keith Mullett, said: “We are proud to be playing a key role in the entry into service of the highly advanced H160 in the offshore sector and we look forward to bringing a step-change in operating standards through the confidence-building route- proving exercise agreed with our partners Airbus and Shell”.

Shell Aircraft Vice President, Tony Cramp, said: “Shell welcomes the opportunity to embrace new aviation technology and introduce this highly advanced and efficient aircraft to safely service our vibrant and growing offshore business in the US Gulf of Mexico”.

Shell General Manager – Supply Chain Deepwater, Viet Van added: “The emissions reductions that the H160 provides help us continue to deliver crude and natural gas with the smallest carbon footprint of our global deepwater portfolio, and are another important step to meeting our goal of zero net emissions by 2050”.

According to Airbus, the H160 is the world’s most technologically advanced helicopter and features an unprecedented suite of pilot aids delivered through its Helionix avionics.

The company claims that this substantially reduces crew workload and decreases the risk of pilot error.

They include the world’s first ground helipad assisted take-off procedure, a vortex ring state pre-alerting system, and a recovery mode to automatically regain steady flight in difficult circumstances.

The H160 is powered by two of the latest Arrano engines from Safran Helicopter Engines and incorporates an embedded monitoring system and redundancy of sensors. It can be maintained autonomously far from the base.

Airbus also noted that the design emphasises robust corrosion defence specifically envisaging offshore missions.