Bristow’s Africa Operation Began in 1960
June 02, 2015
Bristow traces its African roots to 1960 when it acquired Fison-Airwork, primarily a crop spraying company with business in Central America, England and the Sudan. Fison-Airwork was also involved in supporting some of the first oil exploration work in Nigeria on contract to the Shell D'Arcy development company. In the following years, Bristow would divest itself of the crop spraying business and expand the work with Shell in Nigeria.
The impact of the Biafran WarThe Nigerian Civil War, or Biafran War, which broke out in 1967, impacted Bristow's operations in the region, as it did many other companies operating in Africa. Bristow helped evacuate workers from rigs at the start of the war, reunited them with their families, and flew them to Fernando Po, (Bioko), an island off the west coast of Africa (Bight of Biafra) and now part of Equatorial Guinea. At the time of the war, Bristow had 11 helicopters committed to oil support work based at Port Harcourt.
Despite the risks, Bristow managed to keep operating in Nigeria during the war, with a skeleton presence in Lagos and Warri. The war ended in 1970.
Energy becomes big business
Bristow was incorporated in Nigeria on December 17, 1969. In the early 1970s, Bristow had Wessexes, Whirlwind series 3s, Bell 206s and Islanders in its fleet, and its business began to rebuild as oil companies returned to the region. In the early to mid-1970s, Nigeria was Bristow's biggest profit center and grew through the decade, with contracts from Shell, Mobil, Texaco and others.
By the 1980s, Bristow phased out the Wessexes and its fleet consisted of Bell 212s, Bell 206s and Sikorsky S-76s, among others. In 1982, Bristow operated entirely from client bases.
In 1986, Bristow began training Nigerian pilots at its flying school at Redhill, a program which continues at Bristow Academy today. Bristow has trained approximately 200 Nigerian pilots since the program began. Bristow also began sponsoring students at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, (NCAT), Zaria. The company has trained approximately 210 Nigerian helicopter engineers since this program began in 1986, and continues today.
Going strong at the turn of the century
In the early 2000s, in an interview for the book by author Andrew Healey called Leading from the Front, Allan Brown, then director of Bristow's International Business Unit, described Bristow's operations as a "growth area," with a main base at Lagos International Airport, a hangar, offices and residential facilities.
The company flew two de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter turbo-prop aircraft for Shell in support of its crew changes among Lagos, Warri and Port Harcourt. Later, Bristow flew oil crews from Lagos on Dornier 328 turbo-prop aircraft, which were later replaced by three Dornier 328 jets, to Port Harcourt, Warri and Abuja, and provided crews for six Shell-owned Eurocopter EC-155s and five Bell 212s out of Eket for Mobil. Bristow also operated two Aerospatiale AS355 Twin-Squirrel helicopters for Texaco and ConocoPhillips (Canoxy) out of the Warri-Texaco base. In addition, the company operated the Mitsubishi MU-2 and Beech King Air turbo-prop aircraft for ad-hoc charter clients. Bristow was also operating in Ghana, Benin, Mauritania and Togo.
Brown recounted that Bristow replaced many of the expats with Nigerian nationals at this time, and sponsored "pilots through training in Florida, and engineers through training in Perth."
In 2002, Air Logistics acquired Pan African Airlines (Nigeria) Ltd (PAAN). The PAAN acquisition brought Bristow fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, and a major contract with Chevron.
In 2006, Bristow had 48 aircraft operating in Nigeria, including six new Bell 412s. After a tour of the Nigeria Air Force base at Port Harcourt by Bristow President and CEO, Bill Chiles, the company made a long-term commitment to invest in infrastructure at the base and focused on improving safety, profitability and business integrity in the region.
Bristow's operations continued to grow through the end of the decade. The company operated from nine bases in Nigeria, with the largest bases at Escravos, Warri, Port Harcourt and Lagos, and was the largest provider of helicopter service to the oil and gas industry in the area. The marketplace, which had historically been concentrated predominantly in the oil rich swamp and shallow water of the Niger Delta, expanded to work further offshore in support of deep water exploration. In the late 2000s, Bristow was operating Eurocopter AS332 Super Pumas under contract for Shell, Sikorsky S-76s under contract for Exxon, and in 2009, had acquired two Sikorsky S-92s for a contract with Chevron.
New Nigerian legislation creates opportunities
In 2011, the enactment of legislation in Nigeria to create more sustainable, stand-alone Nigerian companies in the nation's oil and gas industry prompted Bristow to separate its Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Ltd (BHNL) and PAAN operations. The company started a new Nigerian entity – BGI Aviation Technical Services (BATS) – to provide technical aviation maintenance services within Nigeria. BHNL and PAAN are the first BATS clients.
While committing to continue to apply all key Bristow Group standards and policies, including Bristow's Target Zero safety program, the new arrangement brought autonomy to BHNL's and PAAN's flight operations, with support from Bristow Group via BATS.
Present day Bristow
Bristow continues to maintain a strong business presence in Nigeria. The company deploys a combination of small, medium and large aircraft in Nigeria and operates from six bases, with the largest located in Escravos, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri. Bristow's client base is comprised mostly of major integrated offshore energy companies.
Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Limited (BHNL) is a joint venture in Nigeria in which Bristow Helicopters owns a 48 percent interest, a Nigerian company owns a 50 percent interest, and an employee trust fund owns the remaining two percent interest as of December 31, 2015. BHNL provides helicopter services to clients in Nigeria.
PAAN is a joint venture in Nigeria with local partners. PAAN provides helicopter services to clients in Nigeria.
BATS provides aviation engineering and technical services to the Nigerian aviation market. BATS headquarters is at GRA Ikeja Lagos, and a service office is located at the General Aviation Area of Murtala Muhammed Airport, including a fully-equipped heavy maintenance hangar and management offices. In Port Harcourt, the company has a full maintenance hangar in addition to its support facilities. BATS also operates from customer bases in Warri, Calabar, Eket and Escravos.