27 Jun Helicopters, platforms and offshore windfarms

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Continuing the topic of wind turbines and aviation from our last blog, this time we take a more in-depth look at some of the aspects that affect helicopters operating offshore. Specifically, we examine both operational and business issues surrounding offshore wind farms, their proximity to oil and gas platforms, and how to ensure that helicopter access is safe.

Dangerous obstacles that make a helicopter approach or departure unsafe can have serious financial consequences

Offshore energy

As we discussed in our previous blog, the popularity of wind turbines for generating energy from renewable sources is good for global climate goals, but they can also create safety hazards for aviation when located near airports. There is another risk when wind farms are placed at sea: the potential hazards for helicopter service to offshore platforms.

Climate goals and the trend toward renewable energy sources have meant explosive growth in wind turbines being placed offshore. For various reasons, such as the structure of the sea floor for example, it can be attractive for energy companies to place wind farms in the same locations as existing oil and gas platforms.

Hazards for helicopters

Helicopters are often used to service both oil and gas platforms and wind farms. This operations and maintenance aspect makes safe access to helipads an important criterium when planning the location and position of wind turbines. Finding locations for wind turbines that do not interfere with access to offshore oil and gas platforms can present a challenge.

Obviously, dangerous obstacles that make a helicopter approach or departure unsafe can have serious financial consequences for an energy company’s offshore operations. The risk of too little obstacle-free approach space is either reduced access to platforms or smaller wind farms, or both. Reduced access means higher cost of servicing, which can translate into higher energy and fuel prices. And unexpected limitations on the size of a wind farm make it impossible to generate energy at the levels originally planned.

Assessing accessibility

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for placing wind turbines, platforms and helipads. Each situation is (geographically) different, with varying influences from wind, weather and hours of daylight. If the 5NM horizontal radius of the helicopter traffic zone cannot be kept obstacle-free, this affects the instrument approaches that are possible during low visibility. The commonly used Airborne Radar Approach allows directional flexibility. However, obstacle proximity could warrant more precise – but limiting in variable conditions – fixed GPS Point-in-Space approaches. This is also not yet available on all helicopters or approved by all countries and operators.

At To70, we have developed a method based on first-hand experience that can help to quickly assess accessibility issues. By studying locations, obstacle positions and allowances, and the effects of typical weather conditions on visibility and winds, we can pinpoint potential hazards and design potential placement options and approaches. These detailed assessments can be used to evaluate and weigh the financial risks, and to find the right balance between safety and productivity that can mitigate them.

 

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to www.to70.com.

 

Ramon Veneman
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Ramon is a pilot with licenses for both fixed-wing and helicopters. As a helicopter pilot, he has experience flying for the Royal Dutch Air Force, 15 years for offshore industry, and for VIPs. He studied Air Transport Management in London, where his thesis was on the topic of fuel hedging. He is currently putting his expertise in both helicopters and fuel hedging to good use flying to wind farms and working on wind turbine projects for To70.
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