Darren Moncrieff, Babcock Australasia’s managing director of aviation & critical services, discusses how the business rapidly adapted to help clients during COVID, its bid for LAND 2097 and its varied helicopter fleet.
We see ourselves as a defence, aviation and critical services company. On the aviation side, our business delivers transportation and critical services to support emergency services, search and rescue, surveillance and the oil and gas sectors. From a defence point of view, we work with the Department of Defence – across the Army, Navy and Air Force – in the marine, land and air space. When it comes to our emergency services work, we deliver outcomes to our state government and not-for-profit customers.
We provide the emergency helicopter services for Queensland Health from Horn Island Airport to benefit the Torres Strait community. We also provide these services to the Mackay and Rockhampton communities through our not-for-profit clients. In Victoria, we provide helicopters, pilots and aircrew to Ambulance Victoria, operating all of their rotary wing aeromedical services out of Essendon, LaTrobe Valley, Bendigo and Warrnambool. Here in South Australia, we also operate the State Rescue Helicopter Service providing emergency services as well as police enforcement for the state government. The offshore oil and gas part of the business delivers services for big blue-chip customers in the oil and gas market – transporting people and equipment to support the energy needs of industry and the Australian population.
Babcock International, our parent organisation, acquired Avincis Group who owned Bond & Australian Helicopters in 2013-14, the origin of the services we deliver came from smaller organisations that developed over many years. Since then, we’ve continued to grow our aviation and critical services business through renewing contracts and introducing new customers. We have long-term relationships with a number of our customers that go back some 15 years. Our team is very much focused on developing long-term collaborative relationships with our customers.
Our business has been responding to the new world of COVID since January. Because we work with customers in the medical space, there was a great deal of discussion happening very early in the piece. Our team was instrumental in leading the way with developing industry-leading procedures to ensure that we could maintain service without interruption.
In the aeromedical world, the requirements for our services don’t go away, we knew we had to be on the front foot to ensure we could respond when needed. Key, in being part of the industry leading adaption of stringent protocols, is our Babcock global network. The COVID situation was developing much quicker in the northern hemisphere than here in Australia, which meant we were able to work with our UK Aviation group and European sister companies, also in the emergency medical services business. Through sharing their lessons learned weeks in advance of similar events happening in our Australian market we could take on board those lessons and rolled them into our procedures to stay ahead of the curve. Working with our customers and other key stakeholders that supply aeromedical services to them, we were able to share this knowledge across other industry partners as well. To date we’ve successfully come through the initial period and second wave in Victoria, delivering uninterrupted service to our customers.
Two examples: firstly, rostering protocols. Generally, in the aviation industry, crews would fly with different people every day in a multi-crew environment, but we decided to quarantine crews, with fixed pairings of pilots and aircrew officers and not changing the roster to minimise the potential for cross-contamination. Where we have more than one crew on shift we would ensure they were segregated in separate areas of the building and didn’t mingle in communal areas. These protocols also extended outside of the workplace, minimising socialising for example. We’ve got a dedicated team of professionals that all understand what we are trying to achieve. Also, our oil and gas crews have been ever flexible in adapting their rostering pattern to meet quarantine requirements when entering Western Australia and the Northern Territory. For the whole team it was about making sure we could be there for our customers and the Australian community.
Second: some time ago before COVID, we introduced a decontamination process for the back of our aircraft called Nocospray. It is has been part of our WHS policies, used post transporting a patient suspected of or diagnosed with communicable disease, to decontaminate the interior cabin and cockpit of the aircraft. After some research we confirmed this spray was able to be incorporated into our COVID procedures as well. We used it for any patient who was either confirmed, or even suspected, to be a COVID case. The aircraft would be decontaminated before the aircraft was put back online. And, of course, we had absolute stringent procedures around patient handling, including wearing PPE.
There’s a multi-pronged approach as to why we’re based in South Australia. When Babcock bought Avincis, it was headquartered in Brisbane. Babcock had already established its footprint in SA and had a head office here because of the defence-focused part of the business. The decision to move the aviation headquarters to Adelaide brought our head offices together to drive synergies and efficiencies by having the team based in one area. Although the aviation and critical services business is headquartered in Adelaide, we do have a strong domestic operating footprint right across Australia.
We have 30 rotary aircraft in our fleet, operating from 13 different sites across Australia and Dili in Timor Leste. From a staffing point of view, we’re circa 370 people across the whole of the aviation business. But when you look at the larger Babcock Australasia group, the entire staff is more than 1,300 people between Australia and New Zealand. We maintain market leading positions within our rotary wing aeromedical and oil and gas markets and we are the biggest operator in Australia of the Leonardo AW139, which we use for emergency services work for Ambulance Victoria, and for servicing our offshore oil and gas customers out of Western Australia. In addition, we are the only operators of the Airbus H175 helicopters in Australasia and maybe even the southern hemisphere in support of offshore work.
Complementing the AW139, we operate a customised Bell 412 fleet, focused on our emergency services work. We also have a small offering of single-engine aircraft. We’ve got two MD 500s that run out of Newcastle, in our marine pilot transfer operation, and we have one Eurocopter EC130, operating on police surveillance down here in SA. Finally, we also have one AS350 aircraft that operates out of Horn Island in a maritime surveillance role supporting the Bell 412.
Babcock treats its customers as partners: we don’t see ourselves as vendors. To deliver the best solution, we call upon Australian industry participants to work with us in partnership, developing an integrated approach to support us in what we do. It is very well received by our customers.
Our team responds when people are in a real time of need. Whether it be a motor vehicle accident, or someone injured in the bush whilst hiking, our team will respond to deliver front line medical support and reassurance that they’re going to be OK and ultimately delivering them safely back to a higher level of care. And then, of course, on the commercial side of our business our crews, who are best in class, are responsible for flying out across the deep blue ocean to the middle of nowhere, delivering workers safely to the offshore installations so that they can complete their work, supporting an industry that delivers oil and gas to keep the home fires burning for Australians and Australian industry.
Exciting times ahead with our bid for the Army’s LAND 2097 program. We recently announced that we had down selected the Bell 429 Global Ranger in our bid for Army’s LAND 2097 Phase 4 Project to support the Australian Defence Force’s special operations rotary wing capability. We see our bid as an extension of our current aviation business, leveraging off the capability and efficiencies we have already developed that will deliver a best-in-class outcome. Sticking with our commitment to Australian Industry Participation and Content, we have partnered with our AIC network for the customisation program and, if successful with LAND 2097, this will translate into job creation with 178 local jobs and nearly $330 million in economic benefits to the local community.
Babcock Australasia to deliver enhanced helicopter emergency medical and surveillance services to South Australia
Babcock Australasia’s rotary-wing contract with the government of South Australia has been extended until October 2022, confirming increased and continuing service to the region.
Babcock will continue to deliver emergency medical services (EMS), search and rescue (SAR) and airborne law enforcement services for the South Australian State Helicopter Rescue Service (SRHS), on behalf of the South Australian government.
The contract extension includes an additional Bell 412 helicopter to operate from Adelaide Airport, replacing an EC130 aircraft and operating alongside two existing Bell 412s. Babcock Australasia’s managing director – aviation & critical services, Darren Moncrieff, said Babcock has been supporting the South Australian government’s rotary wing emergency air ambulance and SAR requirements for 15 years.
“Based at Adelaide Airport, Babcock operate the aircraft for the South Australian Police (SAPOL) and the South Australian Ambulance Service (SAAS),” Moncrieff said.
“We have worked together with these government agencies since 2005, maintaining and operating the helicopter fleet to support safe flying missions, along with safety in the community.
“Babcock personnel have established a strong working relationship with the user agency personnel and deliver all aspects of operational training for the medical and law enforcement personnel.
“Delivering 1,500 hours and 1,200 missions annually, Babcock’s operations are 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Minister for Police and Emergency Services Vincent Tarzia recently visited Babcock Australasia’s hangar at Adelaide Airport, where he received a tour of the facility and met with pilots and aircrew from Babcock’s Aviation & Critical Services team.
“It was a privilege to meet the men and women who operate these vital emergency aircraft for South
Australians in need,” Minister Tarzia said.
“It is pleasing to know the capability of the crew will be strengthened in 2021 with the arrival of another Bell 412 helicopter.”
Leonardo AW139 capability the backbone to Babcock Australasia’s Victorian HEMS and SAR operations
Babcock Australasia’s fleet of rotary-wing aircraft play an integral role in delivering world-class emergency aeromedical response, patient care, and recovery from remote and challenging environments across Australia.
Since entering service in 2016, the state-of-the-art Leonardo AW139 twin-engine helicopter has been an essential component to Babcock’s growing emergency medical services (EMS) and search and rescue (SAR) capability.
Over the past four years, Babcock has supplied five AW139s, plus a service assurance aircraft, to support Ambulance Victoria’s Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) operations.
Chief pilot and head of flying operations (onshore), Captain Tom House, said Babcock’s services include training and qualifying pilots, aircrew and engineers to provide a 24/7, 365-days-a-year service within on-call rapid response times.
“We also provide specialist aeromedical training to Ambulance Victoria’s Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) flight paramedics, which enables them to conduct HEMS operations,” Captain House said. “This training includes down-the-wire land and water winch rescue operations in addition to their medical duties.
“Our pilots and aircrew officers work as a close-knit team with the MICA paramedics, which is critical when conducting operations at short notice at all hours of the day and night, often in challenging weather conditions and involving traumatic circumstances.
“As a result, there is a high level of professional respect between the crew members and a close bond forged by shared experiences.”
Operating from bases in Essendon, La Trobe Valley, Bendigo and Warrnambool, Babcock’s AW139 crews fly more than 2,700 EMS and SAR missions each year across Victoria and Bass Strait.
All AW139s are equipped with a rescue winch allowing MICA paramedics to be lowered into very remote places to rescue patients, including bushland, boats and the ocean. The crew are also equipped with night vision goggles to allow for 24/7 operations.
The aircraft perform inter-hospital transport tasks and infield emergency medical responses, which can involve landing or winch retrieval of injured persons. In the medical retrieval role, the aircraft can be configured to conduct specialist retrieval of high-acuity adult, paediatric, and neonatal patients.
Captain House said Babcock provides Ambulance Victoria with turnkey helicopter support services to
maintain and fly the fleet of specialised medical emergency configured AW139 helicopters.
“This includes early adoption of new technologies, custom configuration of specialised on-board aeromedical equipment, as well as bespoke aircraft cabin designs and fitouts suitable for HEMS and SAR operations,” Captain House said.
“Babcock’s expertise, commitment, and focus on safe practices in the most challenging of circumstances has helped saved many lives and 2019 saw more than 2,100 patients transported by HEMS.
“Our long-term partnership with Ambulance Victoria and experience with HEMS continues to deliver significant benefit to more than 6.3 million people living in rural, regional and metropolitan Victoria.”
Babcock Australasia improves access to emergency medical services in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula regions
Babcock Australasia’s Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) contract with the Queensland government has been extended by three years, ensuring ongoing and improved access to emergency medical services for communities in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula regions.
Babcock will continue to deliver aerial support for emergency medical services (EMS), including inter-hospital transfers, primary medical evacuation and search and rescue (SAR) to regional and remote communities through to June 2024.
In addition to the extension, the Queensland government has provided a $1.34 million funding boost that will also provide a second dedicated mission-modified Bell 412 helicopter, both of which operate from Babcock’s purpose-built facility at Horn Island Airport. Babcock Australasia’s managing director – aviation & critical services, Darren Moncrieff, said Babcock has delivered a reliable rescue helicopter operation to the Torres Strait community since 2007.
“This contract extension builds on a longstanding 12-year relationship with Queensland Health,” Moncrieff said. “Babcock’s highly skilled pilots, aircrew and rescue officers assist the doctors and paramedics on aeromedical retrievals, search and rescue, emergency and counter disaster taskings. They work as an integrated team to transfer patients, including winching operations, to retrieve patients or persons being rescued.
“Our operations are around the clock, with crews flying more than 600 hours and responding to more than 430 missions per year. “Babcock’s team performs both day and night operations, which can prove challenging in the Torres Strait – a region that is prone to extreme weather conditions and where transportation to hospital facilities is limited. The knowledge and experience of our pilots ensure the flight routes are planned and conducted safely and efficiently.”
Executive director of Queensland Health’s Aeromedical Retrieval and Disaster Management Unit, Dr Mark Elcock, said the contract extension and additional helicopter will ensure continuity of vital services to Australia’s northernmost communities.
“Providing health services can be a challenge because of the distance between the region’s main hospitals and outer-lying islands, so it’s critical that we have an emergency helicopter service that is reliable, available and experienced,” Dr Elcock said.
“We have that in Babcock, which has provided exceptional aeromedical support for the past 12 years, helping us save countless lives.”
Keeping critical services flying during COVID-19
While COVID-19 may have stopped some companies in their tracks, that’s not the case for Babcock Australasia. If anything, it has shown how Babcock’s focused determination to get the job done continues to provide steadfast support to air ambulance and other critical services.
Working in partnership with customers, Babcock Australasia’s Aviation & Critical Services team has maintained operations since the start of the pandemic, providing critical services in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.
Babcock’s commitment to service delivery has ensured emergencies are dealt with promptly and safely, with improved current procedures coupled with the introduction of new rigorous health and hygiene protocols.
Babcock Australasia’s managing director – aviation & critical services, Darren Moncrieff, said Babcock’s response has been robust and reliable.
“As a global organisation, Babcock’s response to COVID-19 has been global and it’s been amazing to see the innovation that has resulted,” Moncrieff said.
“We’ve also played an integral role in supporting our customers here in Australia, ensuring they can keep flying and assisting the community safely and efficiently. Babcock is responsive and adaptive, rising to the challenge to meet customer needs and community expectations. We’re there when it counts.”
Babcock’s customers continue to face the challenges of providing critical services such as air ambulance and search and rescue missions despite COVID-19. Maintaining its operations with increased levels of safety and security has added more layers of complexity.
Having adapted their own practices to ensure the health and safety of their own people and the community, they say Babcock has remained fully aligned with their enhanced measures.
“Babcock has shown enormous flexibility in providing an uninterrupted essential service,” said Tracey Tobias, director complex care at Ambulance Victoria. “I have been particularly impressed at Babcock’s continued collaboration with Ambulance Victoria, drawing on the experience of each organisation to refine, create and adapt processes to ensure the safety of our personnel and our patients.”
Mark Fewtrell, executive director of RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service, said that Babcock’s willingness to work with his organisation and Queensland Health on evaluating strategies in the event that crews were exposed to the virus was crucial in mitigation planning.
“As a client, Babcock’s response provided me with the necessary information and confidence from which to be able to provide assurance to key stakeholders, the community and the board of directors,” Fewtrell said.