Rescue helicopters for oil and gas installations in the Barents Sea

I have in previous articles discussed the troublesome process over some 20 years in Norwegian bureaucracy of defining qualifications and specifications for new helicopters replacing both aging military and civilian helicopters. In the meantime Norwegian frigates and Coast Guard vessels are sailing without the ”extended operational capabilities” offered by advanced and dedicated helicopters.

Also the Norwegian Rescue Service is increasingly hampered by the aging Sea King helicopters, for which spare parts are very difficult to get hold of. Reaction time has been ominously high on certain occasions. As is often the case, bureaucratic infighting and indecision have prevailed throughout the process, with so many players taking part that pinning one or a few for project ownership and responsibility is very difficult. I think inadequate competence should be added to infighting and indecision. Neutral observers and analysts have pointed at the unrealistic ambition of including too many operational demands in one and the same helicopter. The delays caused by this futile attempt to cover military, coast guard and rescue – even police – demands in the same helicopter platform has so far not caused direct accidents with fatal outcome. At least, we have not heard that said in accident reports and the media. It is only a question of time, however. In this situation we receive the alarming news that Norwegian rescue helicopters do not have the operational range necessary to reach out to the planned oil & gas installations in the Eastern part of the Barents Sea. Will this lead to an additional ”extra mile” in the ongoing decision making process? I really do not hope so. For once it should be possible to decouple an upcoming challenge from the ongoing process, and leave it to creative and competent people to find new solutions that are not based on land based rescue helicopters.

Weight is the “enemy” of range; weight involves fuel, equipment and persons (crew and rescued people) in addition to the helicopter itself, of course. It makes little sense to extend the range of new rescue helicopters if the downside is reduced capacity to carry people in danger from a burning or tipping platform. Rather, the focus should be on new and better life boats and surviving suits and equipment on each platform, and may be improved capabilities connected to stand-by vessels. To handle injured persons, fast going vessels for transportation to the nearest platform locatedwithin “normal” range of a rescue helicopter, could be a solution. Even a hospital ship in the Eastern part of the Barents Sea could be part of an overall satisfying solution. It goes without saying that other countries bordering this sea area, in casu Russia and Finland, should be challenged to give credit to novel and satisfying solutions, and to contribute in a finance consortium.

It will be interesting to see what will be the approach to this new “disturbing fact” embedded in the envisaged oil & gas adventure in the Eastern part of the Barents Sea.

Knut H. Nylænde is a Norwegian businessman doing investments in Norway as well as abroad. Through his investment company, Moxie AS, he typically invests in small growth companies. He is very much focused on keeping the innovative edge also when the companies are getting larger.