The sky’s the limit as business travel, emergency response, surveillance, aviation, and oil industries intersect on multiple fronts.
By Julie Anderson
One industry drills down while the other climbs up. One taps into dark holes, while the other seeks stillness and sunlight. One is controlled by workers comfortable with the dust and grime, while the other is captained by crisply dressed officers.
The aviation and oil and gas industries have been linked for decades, considering one literally fuels the other. However, the partnership is no longer based on petrol. Rather, the aviation industry has forged new flight plans into the oil and gas industry, not only jetting energy executives to business meetings, but helping conduct key surveillance missions and quicken emergency response.
“Please get me a flight.”
Despite recent valleys and peaks in production and prices, industry technology continues to develop, and daily operations are still in full swing, necessitating flights to and from oil company headquarters and hubs.
“Oil and gas and the aviation industry have been intertwined for a very long time,” said Cindy Gettig, marketing and development coordinator with Western LCC. With offices in Midland, Houston, and Denver, Western LLC includes an Energy Services Division and an Aviation Division, http://westernllc.net/. Western’s Energy Services Division works with oil and gas companies on designing, permitting, and construction of corporate offices, field offices, maintenance, and storage facilities, lay down yards, salt water disposal facilities, and site development. Western’s Aviation Services Division works with airports, maintenance providers, and aircraft operators, and designs, entitles, and builds aviation projects across the United States.
“In the recent decades, there has been an increase in corporate aviation, which has also created an upsurge in corporate aviation in the oil and gas industry,” Gettig observed.
Corporate aviation is generally defined as the use of personal air transportation rather than relying on commercial carriers for business travel.
“In the Permian Basin, this could mean moving people between smaller towns that don’t have commercial air service, moving people at more convenient times and with greater ease than flying commercially, or setting up regular shuttle service for employees who need to have regular, consistent flights between offices and field locations,” said Marc Ramthun, director of sales with CSI Aviation, which specializes in high-end group travel and small aircraft/local airport transportation, http://www.csiaviation.com. CSI Air, a division of CSI Aviation, currently owns and operates a King Air Turboprop aircraft based in Albuquerque, which can transport up to seven passengers all over the Southwest and beyond, whether it be for corporate travel or emergency response.
Significant benefits to air travel include the speed of transport, flexibility of schedule, and the reliability of chartered aircraft, Ramthun stated.
The key benefit to corporate aviation is efficiency, Gettig said. First, time is saved, and deadlines are more easily met.
“Having a corporate aviation department allows for companies to get the right people to right places in a moment’s notice, which is invaluable in the oil and gas industry,” Gettig said. Oil and gas companies can fly someone in for an emergency meeting or to close a deal without missing an opportunity due to delays in public transportation.
In many cases, private aviation facilities and hangars are designed specifically to meet the needs of the particular oil and gas company.
“The hangar acts as a second office facility where companies can fly clients in, provide unique hospitality, and conduct time-sensitive meetings,” Gettig continued.
Security issues are another consideration when it comes to corporate travel.
“Having a private aviation facility that is designed based on the needs of their flight department and their business operations allows for oil and gas companies to effectively, privately, and securely travel as they need,” Gettig explained. “Privacy and security are essential to the oil and gas industry.”
Thirdly, corporate aviation can result in cost savings. Of course, there’s the old adage, “Time is money,” which certainly applies in this case. However, savings are realized in other ways, as listed by Gettig:
Oil and gas companies that use their own corporate aviation are not subject to the increases in commercial prices and associated fees.
Aviation facilities can be designed to include private fuel farms. These fuel farms are economical for companies because they buy fuel in bulk to store in the fuel farm that is associated with their hangar. This allows them to avoid paying extra charges that are associated with purchasing fuel. Fuel farms can be used only by those in the hangar and cannot be resold to others, but they do save money and time to those who invest in the farm.
Having an efficient aviation facility helps with cost savings due to the multipurpose uses of the facility including but not limited to flight department offices, business operation offices, corporate conference room, business center, lobby area, and many other options and amenities.
“There is a high amount of cost savings for oil and gas companies that use corporate aviation,” Gettig concluded.
Emergency Response, Surveillance
CSI Aviation has been serving the oil and gas industry since 2003, and since that time the company has participated in the airlift of hostages from a hostile region, designed an evacuation strategy for employees who were working at an oilfield in Erbil, Iraq, last year when ISIS moved in, and more.
“All oil and gas companies, including the independent producers in the Permian Basin, should have an emergency response and evacuation plan in place should disaster strike,” said Ramthun.
Along with providing the actual aircraft, CSI Aviation can assist with emergency response planning and preparedness as follows:
Initiating Emergency Response Services
Preplanning—Customer will provide CSI with the following:
Origination/destination of air charter requirement
Date and estimated time of departure
Special luggage or cargo requirements
Point of contact information (name, phone, fax, email, etc.)
Brief description of group to be transported (personnel evacuation, oil spill response movement, etc.)
Provide a passenger manifest including date of birth, passport number, and citizenship of each charter passenger
Available aircraft will be promptly identified and recommendations will be passed to company’s ER team or POC for decision
CSI will arrange contracting and guarantee payment using its pre-established financial relationships with all air carriers
Coordinate ground handling arrangements at all airfields
Arrange for special security measures if required
Provide trip information prior to departure
Follow all charter operations until completion
CSI Aviation also deploys both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft as needed to survey sites for either regular surveillance and security programs, or to gain valuable information after an accident, fire, or other disaster including hurricanes and pipeline theft, Ramthun detailed. In addition, CSI Aviation recently acquired Seeker Aircraft, Inc., which is now its subsidiary. Seeker Aircraft and its wholly owned subsidiary, Seabird Aviation Australia Pty, Ltd., are the original equipment manufacturers for the SB7L-360 series “Seeker” aircraft, a specially designed observation aircraft.
“The aircraft is designed to achieve optimum effectiveness, performance, and safety in low-level observation missions,” shared Dave Pohlman, president and CEO of Seeker Aircraft. “It is highly attractive as a pipeline patrol aircraft. Its stability enables inspection crews to focus most of their time outside the aircraft, maximizing effectiveness,” Pohlman said. The Seeker is a stable and efficient sensor platform, but also offers best-in-class visibility to enable crews to visually inspect countless lengths of pipeline safely and efficiently. Seekers are currently flying missions in Africa, Australia, and the Middle East.
The Emergence of Drones
“In the oil and gas industry, we are beginning to see drones replace tasks being performed by an airplane or a helicopter,” reported Richard Allen, operations manager with Doheny Drones, http://dohenydrones.com/ Currently, drones are primarily used for pipeline monitoring, aerial inspection of infrastructure, and aerial mapping.
The main reason for drone use is cost savings, Allen said.
“Drones can provide the same information and results of traditional aircraft but at the fraction of the price,” he stated. “They are cheaper to buy, insure, and service, and they run on batteries instead of expensive fuel.
Drone use can also help companies avoid expensive shutdowns, Allen advised. For example, visual inspections of oil refinery flare stacks are typically performed by helicopters and can require long shutdowns to allow for the poisonous emissions they produce to clear. With an unmanned drone, this is not an issue; rather, visual inspections can be performed without any delay in production.
Drones can also help companies with loss prevention, Allen said.
“The detection of gas leaks is a major issue for many in the oil and gas industry as many current methods are expensive and costly to conduct regularly,” he continued. “These inspections would be cheaper and far easier to conduct using a drone and would allow oil and gas companies to conduct these far more frequently.”
Drones are still relatively new to the industry due to government regulations, Allen explained. Their use is far more common in Canada, where they have regulations for commercial drone use in place. The United States currently has regulations pending that are expected to go into effect towards the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016. However, it is still possible to obtain an exemption or a waiver from the FAA to operate a drone commercially in the United States.
AeroVironment, Inc., based in Monrovia, Calif., offered the following list of specific applications of unmanned aircraft systems, https://www.avinc.com/public-safety/applications/oilandgas:
Asset, environmental and wildlife surveying
Oil spill detection
Oil spill damage assessment
Oil/gas pipeline surveillance incident mapping
Search and rescue (SAR)
Sea ice monitoring
Julie Anderson, based in Odessa, is editor of County Progress Magazine, and is well known to many readers of PBOG as the former editor of this magazine.