Technology and training for success in aviationSeptember 27, 2022
Enrique Zepeda, CEO of Transportes Aéreos Pegaso, talks to The Energy Year about the recovery of Mexico’s offshore aviation sector and the differentiators the company relies on in a competitive market. Transportes Aéreos Pegaso provides offshore services to oil rigs, executive transportation, cargo flights and air ambulance services.
What kind of increase in activities have you experienced from private E&P operators and Pemex?
Due to the pandemic, activities dropped by 30-40%, but now we are experiencing an increase of activities from both Pemex and private E&P operators. The offshore aviation sector has been recovering slowly but steadily, especially thanks to the ramp-up of activities from private operators, which hit a production record of 70,000 bopd in December 2021.
We’ve won tenders with nearly all the IOCs in Mexico: BHP Billiton, Repsol, Eni and Wintershall Dea, among others. The majority have been exploration works under short-term contracts. Contracts are normally six months and if the operations are extended, they are renewed for another six. For example, we are working with BHP Billiton on the Trion deepwater project transporting cargo and passengers to the platform, but this work is now on pause until the end of 2023.
With Pemex the recovery has been slower, but it is projected to eventually catch up as they are focusing on 20 mature fields to increase production as quickly as possible. We had a long-term project with them which included the transportation of personnel and cargo to shallow-water platforms and we are in the process of renewing it. We now have seven helicopters working for Pemex, and the rest are catering services to private operators. We are also looking for other markets to penetrate. Suriname and Guyana have plenty of potential and we are also interested in Trinidad and Tobago.
How have you restructured and modernised your fleet to cater to the new needs of the market?
We used to have a fleet of 33 helicopters, but we are down to 25 now. In the last couple of years, we have downsized old helicopters and brought in new ones. The decline in operations during the pandemic prompted us to reduce our fleet, returning the helicopters we had on lease. The same went for assets that no longer passed the inspections or requirements of some of our oil and gas clients.
Depending on the IOC or NOC, they have different specifications. Pemex is the most particular as they require helicopters of a maximum of 10 years of age or 10,000 flight hours. On the other hand, private operators don’t have that rule, but they require more equipment for component monitoring. For example, they now require HUMS [health and usage monitoring system], an electronic monitoring system for the whole helicopter – everything is automated. This system warns you before something goes wrong, detecting the problem through vibrations.
In recent years, we have put efforts into adapting our fleet and acquired a lot of new equipment. For example, in December 2021 we purchased our latest Leonardo AW139. We have also ordered two more. These are made for 12 passengers according to IOC rules, but Pemex can use them for 15 passengers. We also acquired Airbus models H175 and H145.
What differentiators does Transportes Aéreos Pegaso rely on in this competitive market?
The keys to our success have been to be at the forefront of technology and training of our staff. We have the most modern aircraft in the market, and deliver quickly and efficiently. The company has an extensive track record and by the end of 2020, it had completed more than 1.1 million operations with 600,000 flight hours, and transported more than 2.25 million passengers.
In terms of locations, we have our main hangar in Toluca, in addition to operational bases in Ciudad del Carmen, Matamoros, Dos Bocas, Villahermosa and Tampico, which are strategically located in oil-rich regions of Mexico.
In addition, we are always focused on the safety of all the flights we do. Standards are very high. All the oil companies audit us every year. Also, the aeronautical authority, in this case the FAC, audits us annually and we have our certification from BARS [Basic Aviation Risk Standard]. Lastly, we were the first aviation company in Mexico to obtain the ISO 9001:2000.
However, in this environment, it is difficult to maintain competitiveness. Oil companies put a lot of pressure on prices and also want the best quality. There are plenty of other companies that offer similar services but don’t have the same capabilities, top-notch assets or safety measures.
What other types of services are you carrying out for the electricity sector and Federal Electricity Commission (CFE)?
We offer other services such as air ambulance whenever there is an emergency or need for evacuation. We also do air crane, as in the transportation of heavy loads, and firefighting. Maintenance and inspection are quite in-demand services as well. While the inspection of pipelines or polyducts has decreased, we have ongoing activities when it comes to inspecting the transmission lines.
We have six helicopters servicing the CFE. We’ve been working with them for more than 15 years. We currently have a long-term contract of three years. The CFE has well-defined inspection routes and the nature of work for them varies very little. Lastly, in case of an emergency, we carry external loads and erect emergency towers. Interestingly enough, about 50% of our fleet goes to state-owned companies like the CFE and Pemex – six and seven helicopters, respectively.
What investments do you have planned in pilot training?
Our aim for the coming years is based on growth and improvement in quality. For this, technology and training are essential.
We are now thinking of investing in a simulator to help train pilots. We are liaising with a company called Entrol in Spain, which is a manufacturer of FNPT [flight navigation procedures trainer] and FTD [flight training device] simulators. There is a lack of good quality pilots in the market and we want to give our staff the best training possible – there are not many pilots for our type of helicopters. The simulator would be firstly for our needs, and then for the use of external companies. We are in a study phase now for setting up our training centre.
The new helicopters that arrive have equipment that is more sophisticated. There’s nothing analogue anymore; everything is electronic. We have to train our pilots to be prepared for this new technology. In addition, international regulations regarding pilot training have been evolving. IOGP [International Association of Oil & Gas Producers] rules set standards in terms of equipment onboard helicopters. Normally, as a rule, you have to train your pilot with recurrent sessions on the equipment, once a year. Last year they implemented training twice a year. The new simulator will be important in this task.