Based in Karratha, three of the Italian-built ‘super medium’ AW189s – the first in Australia – began flying in support of Woodside’s North-West Shelf operations in November.
“The arrival of the AW189s marks a new chapter in our long and established relationship with the aircraft manufacturer Leonardo,” Vince D’Rozario, CHC Regional Director, Asia Pacific, said of the new machines’ arrival.
“We look forward to continuing to deepen this relationship as we provide this fit-for-purpose aircraft to Woodside, who we have proudly served since 2011.”
CHC’s Australian journey
With a heritage that dates back over 70 years, CHC offers a wealth of experience to the helicopter transport market in Australia. With its roots in Canada, the organisation’s forebear Okanagan established aviation services in 1947 with a Bell 47B-3, used to support offshore drilling operations.
CHC was established in 1987 after the amalgamation of Okanagan, Toronto Helicopters and Sealand Helicopters. The new organisation expanded its fleet and grew annual turnover to over C$1 billion by 1995, and would acquire Australia’s Lloyd Helicopters in 1999.
CHC’s extensive Australian operations are managed out of its regional base at Jandakot Airport, south of Perth.
“Western Australia is a great base for us as we can focus on growing the business in oil and gas passenger transfer contracts which support activities that are important for both the WA and national economy,” D’Rozario told Australian Aviation in December.
However, while CHC is perhaps best known as a major contractor to resource companies such as Woodside, a significant portion of its local revenue is earned from government services in various Australian states, with 50 per cent of CHC’s Australian revenue coming from search and rescue operations.
“Not only do we operate search and rescue for our military clients, but we operate the RAC Rescue helicopters out of Jandakot and Bunbury on behalf of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) – these are Bell 412s, branded in RAC livery, and is a service that many people in Western Australia have come to rely on,” D’Rozario says.
The business also holds a key search and rescue role contract with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
“We’ve been flying for the RAAF for almost 30 years and have just received another contract continuation with them,” comments D’Rozario.
“We also fly in Victoria, where we’ve got contracts to lease and maintain helicopters to the Victorian Police Air Wing.”
In order to service its varied client base, CHC operates a diverse fleet of helicopter types, from all four major helicopter manufacturers. The AW189s join a number of AW139s already in the CHC Australia fleet, while the company also operates Airbus Helicopters EC135s, AS365 Ns and AS332s, Sikorsky S-76s and S-92s, and Bell 412s.
With the new 16-seat AW189 joining the fleet to supplement the slightly larger S-92, a super medium class has been introduced to CHC’s inventory, D’Rozario explains.
“The S-92 has been the main workhorse of the heavy fleet for the past two years – by heavy I mean the payload and range that the helicopter has,” he says.
“The new AW189 falls into the super medium category which means it has comparable range and a similar payload to the S-92 but noticeably lower operating costs. This is appealing for operators as it is cheaper to run and in a passenger configuration can carry 16 passengers, which is only three less than the S-92.”
Another benefit the AW189 brings to CHC is fleet diversity, protecting against over-reliance on a single type.
This is a particulary important consideration for CHC following the tragic 2016 crash of a CHC EC225 in Norway. With the subsequent grounding of all EC225 aircraft, it was the fact that CHC had more than one aircraft type in its fleet that allowed it to maintain services while the accident was under investigation.
“The Eurocopter 225 had a design fault which has been linked to a series of accidents,” notes D’Rozario.
“This design defect led to a type grounding from global regulators. If there had been no fleet diversification, the business would have ceased to operate. However, by spreading the types of equipment we operate it reduces the risk associated by any future type grounding.”
The EC225’s grounding meant CHC was overly reliant on the S-92 to perform long‑range and heavy payload operations, presenting a potential business risk of being overly dependent on a single aircraft type.
“The risk with a fleet of heavy helicopters based on one type – the S-92 – was ‘what if something went wrong with the type?’ It was the only helicopter we used to go offshore and as a result it was important for us to diversify the fleet,” D’Rozario explains.
Enter the AW189, which brings diversity to the CHC fleet while also introducing cost efficiencies and a better customer and passenger experience.
Leonardo – then known as AgustaWestland – announced it was developing the new 8.3 to 8.6 tonne class twin-engine AW189 at the June 2011 Paris Airshow. Intended from the outset as a long-range machine suited for offshore missions and search and rescue, the AW189 features some common avionics and cockpit features with the smaller AW139, but otherwise is effectively an all-new design.
The prototype AW189 first took flight in December 2011. Over the next two years a series of prototype and pre-production aircraft were used in the certification of the type across both offshore and search and rescue missions. By 2013 the aircraft was in full scale production.
Powered by two GE CT7-2E1 engines, the AW189 features an innovative gearbox design which allows it to ‘run dry’ for an extended period.
“The MSG-3 process has been designed in such a way that the main gearbox can run dry and still operate properly,” D’Rozario explains.
“In fact, during testing it successfully operated dry for up to 20 minutes. This is a great reassurance for operators and reduces the risk to gearboxes identified in the Eurocopter 225 design fault.”
CHC acquired the aircraft to meet the needs of Woodside which itself wanted fleet diversity having been reliant on five CHC-operated AW139s.
“At its core the AW189 is a completely different machine to the AW139. However it does share about 30 per cent of the components of its elder fleet mate, mainly in the avionics, and as such it’s easier for pilots to transition between types due to that familiarity,” D’Rozario comments of the two Leonardo aircraft.
Importantly, the AW189 doesn’t share critical components with any other helicopter in the CHC fleet. As a result, there are now two distinct types in CHC’s Woodside operation, which protects both businesses against the risks associated with single-type operation.
D’Rozario reckons Leonardo has created a new standard for offshore oil and gas transportation,
“This aircraft is a game-changer for oil and gas operations. It’s got the range and payload capability to make it very appealing for the routes that organisations like Woodside need it for, with significant cost savings in acquisition and operations when compared to helicopters in the heavy category. This means it’s more cost-effective to operate, making a significant impact to transportation costs for projects across Australia.”
Technological improvements form just one of the benefits of the AW189, with passenger experience a key consideration in its design.
“The AW189 comes with many benefits for passengers when compared to other helicopters. It’s quieter with noticeably less noise and vibration, while the aircraft has excellent flying characteristics making for a smoother ride,” comments D’Rozario.
“We’ve had great feedback from those people travelling on the 189s.”
To improve passenger and crew comfort, the 189 incorporates an auxiliary power unit, allowing the aircraft to remain airconditioned while on the ground, while much consideration has been taken to reduce vibrations and minimise noise from the rotors.
Still, a flight on an offshore support helicopter like the the AW189 is a unique experience, distinct from other forms of commercial aviation, as D’Rozario explains.
“Flying on an AW189 isn’t quite the same as your usual commercial airplane experience. Passengers wear full lifejackets during the flight and the noise from the rotor means we rely on headsets to communicate during flight. But it’s a comfortable experience. The doors are closed, they have big windows and it’s airconditioned. The seats are like those found in your typical economy class cabin but seatbelts are of a four-point design rather than your standard sash belt.”
These are tools of the trade, after all.
This feature story first appeared in the January-February 2018 issue of Australian Aviation.