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The Oil & Gas UK 2015 Demographics Report published in July showed that 64,113 people travelled offshore to the UK Continental Shelf to work in 2014, a 3.6% increase on 2013. Transporting staff safely and on time to UK and global destinations is no mean feat. Air Partner, a charter aircraft broker, offers bespoke services to the oil and gas industry, connecting clients to a range of fixed-wing aircrafts to suit their needs; from transport of materials and parts to rotation of workers.
"Our customers can control the schedules they want to fly at and fly where they want to go to, and have complete discretion with the aircraft," says director of commercial jets UK at Air Partner, Clive Chalmers. "Flexibility really is the key."
A challenging arena
Transporting oil and gas workers from one destination to another is not as simple as arranging an average flight from Heathrow. There are a number of challenges any charter service will encounter, from planning a flight to disembarking workers at the end of a journey.
The nature of offshore rigs is that they are remote. In many cases, this means that aircraft and their crews will encounter extreme weathers, from deserts in West Africa to snow and ice fall in Russia. Contingency planning for these situations is critical.
Planning for unexpected technical issues is also important, in order for Air Partner to consistently meet its charter plus policy. The policy is an assurance plan underwritten by Air Partner which gives customers a replacement guarantee, rather than relying on the aircraft supplier to supply another plane. This ensures its customers receive the next available aircraft from Air Partner’s varied suppliers.
Air Partner’s 24hr operations team, based in Gatwick, form part of the charter plus service. The team provides a proactive service, monitoring all elements that could affect Air Partner’s chartered flights, from weather to connecting with helicopters and other aircraft.
Expensive middle men or bespoke facilitator?
When asked if Air Partner is no more than a middle man between aircraft providers and the customer, Chalmers is quick to detail what Air Partner offers that makes it a trusted facilitator for customers: "We are fully independent so we can give clients the solutions that they need, we’re not fixed to a particular fleet or one particular aircraft. We have access to the whole market, in addition to our resources and experience."
Air Partner takes contractual responsibility for its flights. This means that if a flight is delayed or there are other problems, Air Partner is required to rectify the issues.
Chalmers also argues that Air Partner’s experience is the key to its success in broking. "The company has been established for over 54 years and chartering is our core business. We have worked for a number of the big oil and gas companies as well as the small independent ones."
In addition, he clarifies Air Partner’s commitment to going above and beyond expectations to ensure it provides the best service possible. "We are ISO 9001 approved, which is unique in our industry," says Chalmers. "This adds additional weight to what we offer the industry in terms of our processes, our coverage and our commitment to offering a safe, quality service."
As well as the more practical elements of service, Air Partner also offers in-flight enhancements to make each charter special. For oil and gas clients, the company offers anything from headrest branding to newspapers, as well as more unusual elements.
"If we’re operating flights down to remote locations, we can take down tubs of marmite or bottles of brown sauce, things like that," says Chalmers. "It really is those little things that can make a difference to a charter. Those home comforts that can sometimes make that trip memorable."
Partnership for safety
With more aircraft in the skies than ever, flying further and more frequently, managing safety is increasingly important in the charted aviation industry. "The aviation safety world has changed focus in the last five years from seeking better understanding of safety management systems to securing effective safety management performance" says Air Partner’s CEO Mark Briffa.
For this reason Air Partner acquired air safety performance consultancy Baines Simmons in August 2015, further boosting its service offering.
"The ownership of Baines Simmons puts Air Partner in a unique position to be able to ensure the very highest standards of safety and airworthiness and to provide our customers with the reassurance that the demands of the offshore industry can be met seamlessly," says Briffa.
Baines Simmons will provide Air Partner’s customers with consulting, training and outsourcing services, determining their needs and requirements for assessment of airworthiness and safety standards.
The new offering will have cost implications for Air Partner’s customers. "We want to ensure that our service proposition provides a clear benefit to our customers and while there are costs involved and while our clients will bear some of the costs, we want to build partnerships and relationships where clients can benefit operationally and financially", says Briffa. "At the moment, the service is not provided as standard with contract terms and conditions, but this could change in the future."
The bespoke services keep coming; the emergency planning service is for oil and gas companies whose staff are located in sensitive areas to extricate them quickly in case of emergency. The key to the service is it being subscription-based. As an agreement will have already been signed between customers and Air Partner, the process is faster than an average charter. Additionally, subscribers gain access to the 24/7 operations team, security and medical support, and evacuation training.
As well as the swathe of changes already installed last year, Air Partner is looking ahead to continue developing its service offering in 2016. Without giving anything away, "the oil and gas sector continues to be a key area of focus and success for Air Partner and as such we are always looking for ways in which we can improve our offering to clients." Whether this means more acquisitions or new services on offer, it certainly seems Air Partner is going all out to secure future business from the oil and gas sector.