Oil and gas giant Shell has excluded Bond Offshore Helicopters from a tender for helicopter services in the North Sea in which Bond was participating. Shell explained that the recent Eurocopter EC225 ditching event requires additional review, a process it has deemed too lengthy for the tender’s timeline.
“It is more a question of unfortunate timing,” a Shell spokeswoman said. The new contract is expected to go live in July or August. “While we make no pre-judgment of the outcome of the investigation into the recent ditching incident, we are not able to achieve sufficient assurance on Bond’s operations [in time],” she added. The ditching has delayed the tender process somewhat, however. “Bristow Helicopters will continue to provide service in the interim,” she said.
On May 10, an EC225 operated by Bond with 14 on board ditched safely into the North Sea. The investigation is focusing on failures of both the standard and backup main-gearbox lubrication systems. It has already prompted the EASA to issue an emergency airworthiness directive.
A Bond spokesman, asked whether Shell mentioned specific safety criteria that Bond might not meet, answered “no.” He emphasized that Shell “wants and encourages us to bid for future tenders.” There is no current contract between Bond Offshore Helicopters and Shell.
Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, expressed concern about the situation. It follows three incidents or accidents in three years at Bond, he noted. “People are used to contracts changing… What is of concern in this instance is that the reason seems to be safety related. The irony in this development is that it has been the oil companies who have brought in new helicopter operators to…create a competitive market. But price is not everything and they will reap what they sow. …The award of contracts should not involve commercial decision-makers in having to weigh the relative safety merits of competing operators. It is for the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure a level playing field in this respect,” he said.
The same week, Bond Aviation Group announced the appointment of Richard Mintern as CEO, replacing Geoff Williams, who is retiring. Most recently, Mintern was COO of Monarch Travel Group.
It was also announced that Bill Munro has decided to step aside as managing director of Bond Offshore Helicopters. Malcolm Paine, hitherto director of operations, has succeeded him.
Mintern said his priority will be to work with Paine and the “existing customers” to conduct “an extensive review of Bond Offshore Helicopters’ operations and customer service.” The process is starting “straight away,” he said. These changes in Bond’s management team are in no way linked to Shell’s excluding Bond as a bidder, according to the Bond spokesman.