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Finding Your Way

March 15, 2017  By Paul Dixon

Spring is emerging along the West Coast as winter has been slow to release its grip this year. It has been a difficult winter in many places and looking beyond the weather, it has been an interesting few months around the world to say the least.

There have been some significant changes on the global rotary landscape both large and small. In recent years, I would have been working on a new angle for an article on the upcoming CHC Safety & Quality Summit, but CHC has moved the event from Vancouver to Dallas, Tx. and has changed the dates to September.

The good news is this important industry gathering has survived given the ups and downs CHC has experienced in
recent years.  

What has happened to CHC since its move to take the company public several years ago may not be a surprise but it still came as a shock.

Another reality check for the industry came late in 2016 when Erickson joined CHC in seeking Chapter 11 protection. Here are two major players with global reach and recognition brought to their knees by the downturn in the oil and gas markets. It’s difficult to imagine a helicopter landscape without either of these companies given their long and proven performance records over the decades but there’s no reason to doubt that they will be there in one form or another many years into the future.


The question that hangs over these two industry giants is the same one that hangs over most, if not all, operators. What will the industry look like in the future, be it this year, five years or 20 years from now?

Thousands of jobs were lost in North America as the oil patch slowed to a crawl over the last couple of years. When companies stop exploring for oil, stop producing oil and stop shipping oil, there are the immediate job losses.

And the total economic impact is numbered in the millions when you include the support and supply industries and move out further into affected communities as people pack up and move away.

The good news is oil and gas production is coming back, at least in some areas of the United States.  Texas, which reported a loss of 98,000 jobs in the oil patch, is seeing a resurgence in oil exploration and production, but – and it’s a big but – there is no corresponding upswing in employment or re-employment. As the world prices remain low, some players in Texas can make a profit on producing oil for as little as $35 a barrel. The key to success in this formula is relying on automation and technology to replace the human element in every possible instance. This is a harsh reality check for many who have seen overseas workers as their main competition. In most cases, the high-paying jobs that have disappeared have been taken over by automation – industrial robots. The human element will never disappear from the job site, no matter where it may be on the face of the planet, but it is inevitable that the job site is evolving to the point where the human role is now to support the technology.

However, have no fear – there is very much a future for helicopters. Everything to do with oil and gas is going to be here for a long time and with the rise in solar, wind power and other forms of green energy generation, there will be plenty of work. Electricity, no matter how it is created, requires transmission lines and opportunities abound, whether it be in emerging markets around the world or in rebuilding aging infrastructure in first world countries. Aerial firefighting has also become a growth industry. I don’t think there’s anyone wishing for more work in this field but the number of fires and the increasing size and intensity of fires is creating an entirely new paradigm.  

The challenge for your organization – for you personally in fact – is to see your future and chart a worthwhile course. It’s going to be a rough ride in the future and not everyone is going to survive. It seems to me, those who have done well in the past and are able and willing to adapt in uncertain times are the ones who will be standing at the end. Remember change is inevitable but progress is optional.

Paul Dixon is a freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


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