The contribution helicopters make to the battle against COVID-19 are well-known; they are relied upon to transfer critically ill patients and ease the strain on overstretched medical facilities. But lesser-known contributions are also being made by helicopters to maintain our energy supply and help keep our maritime trade routes functioning efficiently during the pandemic. WIKING Helikopter Service, an offshore helicopter operator, demonstrates the important role operators play in this crucial sector to help keep our world running.
Ensuring energy and maritime trade operations are maintained
As many countries tightened their borders in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, governments from around the world were faced with a difficult task: how do we ensure that the supply of vital resources - such as energy and critical goods - is maintained while respecting restrictions meant to combat the pandemic? WIKING Helikopter Service went quickly to work, adapting its helicopters in order to conform to safety protocols and keep their helicopters flying. "We implemented the necessary infection protection measures and were thus able to continue our flight operations without restrictions during critical COVID-19 phases," says Lars Hilgert, head of flight operations and pilot at WIKING.
Safe operations of wind turbines during COVID-19
Keeping helicopters flying meant wind farms in the North Sea could continue running as usual, with WIKING ensuring that their maintenance activities could proceed unhindered. “The helicopter enabled us to transport urgently needed material, such as disinfectants, spare parts and technicians in case of disruptive incidents, to supply platforms and offshore wind turbines," said Norbert Gwosdek, Accountable Manager and pilot at WIKING Helikopter Service. It was a welcome relief for Europe’s energy industry which relies heavily on wind power: almost 20% of its consumed energy is derived from wind. "With our helicopters and well-trained pilots, we are ensuring the maintenance and supply of more than 500 wind turbines, which play an essential role in Europe's energy supply."
With our helicopters and well-trained pilots, we are ensuring the maintenance and supply of more than 500 wind turbines, which play an essential role in Europe's energy supply.
- Norbert Gwosdek, Accountable Manager and pilot at WIKING Helikopter Service
Sustaining maritime trade infrastructure
Like many large ports around the world, harbour pilots are transferred to incoming shipping vessels to help them safely navigate the final step of their journey. Traditionally transferred by boat, Wiking saw an increase in the demand for helicopter transfers since the beginning of the crisis. "This is where the helicopter's speed comes in handy,” said Gwosdek. “While transport by ship often takes several hours, the helicopter enables us to approach the incoming container ships in a fraction of the time. In addition, we can fly to ships and wind farms with the helicopter even when the waves are higher, thus enabling a safe transfer of the harbour pilots and wind farm technicians, regardless of the weather situation.” This, coupled with new safety measures, has made the journey by helicopter deemed safer.
Helicopters have also proven instrumental when there is a suspected COVID-19 case aboard a shipping vessel or wind farm installation. "We can quickly equip one of our four H145 helicopters with a partition wall developed by Airbus Helicopters in a service bulletin and our helicopters undergo a special disinfection procedure after each of these operations," said Gwosdek. "This enables us to transport suspected COVID-19 cases from incoming and outgoing ships, and wind turbines to the mainland if necessary, while minimizing the risk of our crews being infected."
About WIKING Helikopter Service
Fleet: Seven helicopters, including four H145s (certified up to Sea State 6)
Services: Transfer of technicians to windparks, installation vessels and offshore wind turbines, transfer of harbour pilots, offshore HEMS service
Bases: Mariensiel, Emden, Husum (Germany), Wick (UK), Beccles (UK) Eemshaven (NL)
Flies to: Several wind farms, transformer platforms and JackUp vessel(s) platforms in North Sea - Baltic Sea territory
Flight hours: Since new fleet structure implementation, more than 7,000 hours on the four H145s
Personnel: 47 pilots, more than 11 hoist operators, more than 30 maintenance engineers