Heli-Expo 2011: Striving for Zero Blemishes, Bristow Hones Its Image

 - March 7, 2011, 9:20 AM

Anyone who has flown aboard a helicopter in support of oil and gas exploration knows that this form of flying ranks among the more exhilarating ways of traveling to work.

At its best, this airborne “commute” happens in an environment of well-practiced, well-regulated and predictable routine. All too often in the real world, it is also an environment ripe with opportunity for things to go wrong in the form of weather, hostile regional politics or mechanical surprises in complex flying machines. The very nature of their unusual abilities puts helicopters in harm’s way as a matter of course, so the challenges of shooting for perfection are arguably more daunting here than anywhere else in commercial aviation.

Against this backdrop, Bristow Group (Booth No. 4246) continues to promote and polish its now three-pronged Target Zero campaign, which strives for zero accidents, zero downtime and zero complaints.

Bristow already lays claim to being the safest helicopter transportation provider in the world but, as president and CEO William Chiles noted at a cocktail reception for customers, suppliers and competitors alike here on Sunday evening, safety is something no operator feels comfortable crowing about. Bristow does emphasize, however, that since it introduced its Target Zero culture of safety in 2007, its safety record has improved in the air and on the ground. Bristow’s air accident rate per 100,000 flight hours was 1.17 in FY 2006 and has been dropping since: 0.78 in both FY 2007 and FY 2008, zero in 2009, 0.53 last year and zero so far in FY 2011. Bristow’s fleet currently numbers nearly 400 helicopters (and about 500 when trainers are included).

Target Zero Downtime depends on the guaranteed availability of replacement aircraft and satphones in cockpits, and Target Zero Complaints aims to keep the customer satisfied with everything else beyond safety and reliability.

According to its FY 3Q2011 report, released on February 3, Bristow has secured bank credit of $375 million ($175 million five-year revolver and $200 million five-year-term loan with a $100 million accordion feature). Term loan proceeds and revolver borrowings were used to repay $230 million in 6 1/8-percent senior notes due 2013 on December 23 last year. Total capitalization as of December 31 stood at $2.2 billion, comprising $1.5 billion equity and $726 million debt.