ABU DHABI // Falcon Aviation Services (FAS) of Abu Dhabi has won its first offshore oil helicopter service contract, signing a three-year deal with Total, the French oil producer. Offshore support makes up roughly 90 per cent of the helicopter business in the UAE, and the deal represents the breaking of a 30-year monopoly held by the incumbent operator, Abu Dhabi Aviation. "It's a very proud moment for Falcon, because the offshore air support industry has been one of our objectives since we started the business," said Philip Markham, the general manager at FAS. The contract is for the provision of up to three flights a day between its base at Al Bateen Airport, on the island of Abu Dhabi, to production platform and drilling rigs at Total's Abu Al Bukhoosh field, located 177km offshore, near the maritime border with Iran. Falcon was created in 2006 by Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa, the son of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. The air charter firm has grown its business quickly - taking in Dh158 million (US$43m) in revenues last year - and last month completed a financing round for Dh875m with Abu Dhabi National Leasing, a division of National Bank of Abu Dhabi.
The charter operator has also diversified its portfolio to include search and rescue work for the UAE military, as well as tourism trips over Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But long-term contracts with the offshore oil and gas industry represent the largest and most stable source of income. "In this business you aim to get your helicopter onto a contract, so that you have a guaranteed income," Mr Markham said.
To service Total, Falcon has dispatched a Bell 412, with a capacity of 13 passengers and two pilots per trip. The large, twin-engined utility helicopter holds a maximum gross weight of 5,400kg and has a maximum cruising speed of 226km per hour. Falcon assets have a total value of Dh1.47bn - including a fleet of 14 helicopters and additional rotorcraft and business jets that are currently on order - to serve its expansion plans.
"Our major focus was to fill the gaps in the aviation market in the UAE, and in particular Abu Dhabi," Mr Markham said. When its charter jet business is fully up and running, Falcon will compete with Royal Jet, which operates the largest charter jet services out of Abu Dhabi. With the new contract, Falcon is beginning to challenge the dominance of Abu Dhabi Aviation, which is the largest commercial helicopter operator in the Middle East, with 59 helicopters in operation out of its base at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Abu Dhabi Aviation still provides the majority of offshore helicopter work for companies such as Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the country's largest offshore oil company.
"Hopefully with this contract we can prove to other potential customers that we are a viable backup plan," Mr Markham said. @Email:email@example.com