The use of helicopters for transferring technical staff is standard procedure in the North Sea oil and gas industry. As a result, significant attention has been given to its potential for offshore wind. But with most operational wind farms relatively near shore, the cost of using a helicopter has yet to appeal. Those working in helicopter hire admit it is still a small market.
Bond Air Services was awarded the first support contract of its kind in the UK, providing helicopter services to Greater Gabbard. The contract relates to O&M services and will start in October. The company’s commercial manager for marine services, David Bond, says projects that incorporate helicopters in their O&M strategy can expect improved overall productivity.
Many of the Round 1 offshore projects currently operational, however, are too near shore and have too few turbines to warrant the cost of a dedicated helicopter service. This is changing in the UK, as the larger Round 2 projects such as Greater Gabbard come online. The promise of even larger and further-out projects in Round 3 is making the industry a good long-term prospect for helicopter operators.
No access limits
"Our role at Greater Gabbard will be to support the delivery of technicians to the turbine nacelles by hoist," says Bond. "Vessels have access limitations associated with wave heights; we don’t have that problem. If projects don’t use helicopters as part of their O&M solution, depending on sea conditions, it could be days or weeks before a turbine is fixed. The lost production costs from that can be quite significant and therefore a combination of vessels and helicopters provides the ideal solution."
With 140 Siemens 3.6MW turbines, it is Gabbard’s size that justifies having a helicopter as part of the O&M solution. "The project has a significant number of turbines and is quite a way from the service base," notes Bond. "These turbines generate income, so any loss of revenue from a problem with one of them soon adds up."