How BizAv Serves Africa’s Oil and Gas Industry

What part does Business Aviation have in Africa’s oil and gas industry? One of the largest and most operationally challenging industries, local experts share their perspectives with Felipe Reisch…

Felipe Reisch  |  15th March 2024
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    Felipe Reisch
    Felipe Reisch

    Felipe Reisch works as a public relations consultant for private aviation companies worldwide, leading...

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    The role of aviation in Africa's Oil and Gas industry

    Oil produced in Africa represents roughly 10% of the global total and is estimated to be almost 10 million barrels per day, according to the African Energy Commission (AFREC).

    To produce the volume it does, the gas and oil sector relies heavily on what Business Aviation can bring to the table in terms of flexibility and access to remote and sometimes hostile environments.

    Business Aviation’s diverse operational capabilities is one of the most coveted traits. In fact, depending on which leg of the process needs to be covered – whether transporting staff or cargo from an international airport to a coastal region on a Light Jet or turboprop, and then to an offshore oil rig or moving vessel via a helicopter – BizAv has a solution.

    Depending on the airport or heliport location and size, all forms of aircraft can be used, says Stuart Low, Director of South African-based Acher Aviation which specializes in the application of helicopters in harbour environments.

    “In Namibia, the departure point is on the coast with restricted runway length. In that instance, turboprops will transport oil and gas crews from the international airport to the regional airport. In Durban, South Africa, the crews can arrive on an international flight and be taken to the vessel directly by helicopter.”

    Nigeria leads Africa as the largest oil producer in the continent and, naturally, Business Aviation plays a critical role. “The oil and gas industry represents 65% of government revenue and 88% of our foreign exchange earnings,” says Rotimi Makanjuola, COO at Caverton Offshore Support Group, headquartered in Lagos.

    He also highlights that crew and offshore cargo movement are the main operations carried out, as well as executive VIP movements.

    In hostile and remote conditions, Business Aviation’s role in connecting economic hubs and supporting operations across the continent is indispensable, as showcased by Priyantha Brito, Executive Director of Special Projects at Aviation Services Management (ASM).

    As a holder of real inventory with a market share of nearly 50%, Dubai-based ASM has strong links in Africa through its aviation fuelling services, holding an Oil Marketer Company (OMC) license in Kenya that allows it to provide competitively priced aviation fuel directly to its clients without the reliance on intermediary suppliers.

    “Such strategic flexibility is essential in Africa, where the reliability of fuel supply poses a significant operational challenge for many aviation companies,” says Brito.

    Popular Aircraft Used by Africa’s Oil and Gas Industry

    As already hinted at, a multi-layered approach to Business Aviation is employed by most International Oil Companies (IOCs), meaning that a mix of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft are used throughout their operations.

    Nevertheless, helicopters are the types needed for the ‘last-mile transportation’ into the more operationally challenging areas.

    “The location of most of the oil wells are offshore or in swamp areas,” Makanjuola highlights. “Helicopters are the fastest and safest way to get to these remote locations.”

    He reckons the most common aircraft used are Leonardo AW139 helicopters, though there are also Sikorsky 76C++ and 76Ds, Bell 412s, Bell 429s, and the Sikorsky S92.

    Low adds that because helicopters are notoriously short on range the departure point needs to be as close to the oilfield as possible, while it is also ideally necessary to enable refuelling on the rigs for the return flight. Acher Aviation has been operating an Airbus H145D2 for the past six years, landing on the decks of oil tankers.

    “This is demanding work in that vessel decks are not flat like rig platforms. Also, the vessel is normally underway so will be experiencing pitch and roll,” he says.

    Challenges to Private Aviation in the Oil & Gas Sector

    The lack of infrastructure is a challenge for some African operations, with Low adding that proper skills, pilots, and engineers are an ongoing problem. The lure of higher salaries in Middle Eastern countries is contributing to these challenges.

    “Furthermore, the oil and gas industry demands six-monthly simulator training,” Low adds. “This is not too big a challenge if you’re in Europe or the USA, but from Africa it requires lengthy travel and hotel stays which all add up to excessive training costs needing to be covered.”

    Brito agrees that infrastructure is a challenge, adding that “Operating aircraft in Africa involves navigating a complex landscape marked by significant challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, government bureaucracy, and irregular demand patterns.”

    In Makanjuola’s opinion, accessing cheap finance and government patronage are some of the challenges faced by local operators, while customs duty is also an inhibiting factor to operating aircraft in Africa.

    “OEM support is lacking,” he adds. “Most aircraft manufacturers still request parts and components are sent away for light overhaul which could be done in-country. This is unfortunate as they need to have a presence in the region to develop it and expand their reach,” he says.

    “We persevere” Low adds. “We love aviation, our customers and the industry.”

    In Summary

    The oil and gas industry in Africa is massive, with huge financial numbers projected for years to come since the world is heavily reliant on oil and gas despite efforts from different sectors to reduce their carbon footprint.

    Once easily accessible, having almost harvested the more accessible areas, the fields are moving further offshore and deeper into the oceans, providing an opportunity for Business Aviation to shine ever brighter through its unparalleled flexibility.

    Helicopters play a special role in reaching these hostile and remote locations, making them a remarkable point-to-point mode of transport. Yet the dynamism of Business Aviation, mainly through its wide pool of available aircraft for different mission types is a key benefit to the oil and gas industry.

    Large cargo aircraft are used for urgent spares transport which are flown to an airport close to a port where the spares will be loaded onto a service vessel to take them to the destination. Here, fixed, and rotary-wing aircraft are used throughout various stages.

    “All forms of aviation are used by the oil and gas industry,” Low concludes.

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