Oil rig helicopters ditch roughnecks for the jet set

Originally by: Matthew Garrahan in Los Angeles and Ed Crooks (FT)

Helicopter operators that fly workers to offshore oil rigs are replacing roughnecks with celebrities as part of a push into high-end, crowdsourced transportation favoured by upscale travellers.

Bristow and Era, two of the largest providers of helicopter services to the oil industry, have struck deals with Blade, an app-based aviation group backed by big media investors, to use their helicopters on routes to upscale second home locales.

Blade, whose recent passengers have included Ryan Seacrest, the long-time host of American Idol, takes customers from Manhattan to weekend getaways such as the Hamptons and Nantucket. It also flies out of Los Angeles to beach communities such as Malibu.

The offshore oil and gas industry, which is a heavy user of helicopter services to carry people to and from rigs and platforms, has been particularly hard hit in the industry downturn since 2014. “Bristow is suffering along with our clients, such as Shell and BP,” said Jonathan Baliff, Bristow’s chief executive.

The company has sought to diversify, including providing rescue helicopters to the UK’s coast guard, but private aviation was an obvious area of growth.

“With the oil and gas downturn we have extra equipment that we can put to use here,” Mr Baliff said. “We always knew oil wasn’t the be all and end all.”

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