Bond Aviation Services began flying a Eurocopter EC135T2+ and crew to maintain wind farms within the Greater Gabbard field off England’s Suffolk coast early last month.
The EC135 could be the first of many helicopters to facilitate servicing of the turbines, Bond Aviation Services director Paul Westaway told AIN. “While boats will still be part of the equation, especially during the summer months, the quickest travels at around 30 knots. That’s a quarter of the helicopter’s speed, so we can make an economic case for minimizing any lost production during downtime.” The helicopter reduces the travel time to “between twelve and 20 minutes,” according to Westaway.
The helicopter has been on standby for more than a year, while wind-farm operator Southern & Scottish Energy waited until the number of turbines entering service and the prospect of deteriorating weather made it the preferred option. The contractor reports that most of the 140 planned turbines are now operational.
The scale of wind-farm development off the UK coast is huge. The latest estimate is that, by 2020, more than 6,200 turbines will be in service–more than 1,000 of them in one farm measuring half the size of Wales–and generating 17 percent of Britain’s power requirements. The favored areas for these clusters, based on prevailing winds and the nature of the sea-bed, are the southern North Sea and off the northwest coast of England.