Academy takes off post-Covid

With training activities in the helicopter sector picking up again as the industry climbs out of the trough caused by Covid-19, the Gulf Helicopters Training Academy in Doha is looking to the future.

Gulf Helicopters
Dual purpose: Gulf Helicopters in action for both land and sea. Picture: Gulf Helicopters Training Academy

Rising demand for its courses has prompted the Gulf Helicopters Training Academy to look into upgrading one of its simulators, and even consider the possibility of branching out into fixed-wing training.

With the oil and gas sector steadily increasing its output to cope with the reviving global economy and to offset oil shortages caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the academy is seeing growth in the number of personnel it enrols.

The academy was originally set up to cater for the training needs and requirements of Gulf Helicopters’ own staff, but this has gradually broadened into providing courses for third parties. The primary customer remains the parent company, but pilot, engineering and administrative training is now handled for a range of other operators.

The academy does not provide ab initio training, but specialises in type rating courses, as well as rating renewals. Close to 250 pilots pass through the academy each year for type rating and retaining their existing ratings.

One of the knock-on effects of layoffs during the pandemic is the current bow wave of demand. “Right now, we’re in the post-coronavirus phase, so we’re basically managing the renewal of pilots’ and engineers’ licences,” said head of training Capt Claudio Fenley.  Slowly and surely, enrolment for initial type rating courses was picking up too.

As well as engineering, the facility offers training in areas including safety management systems, handling dangerous goods, security and human factors.

Given Qatar's huge offshore oil and gas reserves, training for pilots serving offshore platforms – particularly the procedures necessary for take-offs and landings – are high on the agenda.

Training is provided for a range of helicopters, particularly those widely used for the offshore oil and gas sector, such as the AgustaWestland 139 and 189, the stalwart Bell 212 and 412, and the Bell 206. The academy can make use of any of the parent company’s aircraft when they are required for training. Effectively, the aircraft are dry-leased from Gulf Helicopters, with an academy instructor undertaking the training.

The academy has simulators for both the AW139 and 189.

“We provide training for customers from Europe, Africa and Asia – as far east as Thailand,” said Fenley. “We always want to expand.”

Africa – particularly Nigeria, with its large oil sector – is a particularly strong source of pupils, noted Fenley. Indeed, he added, such was the popularity of the courses that, for a period, the academy was providing more training hours for Nigerian pilots than for Gulf Helicopters itself.

“Our facilities are not that fancy. We don’t go for that too much. But the whole package here in Qatar is so welcoming and Qatar Airways provides links with virtually anywhere in the world.”

If necessary, expansion of the academy’s facilities could be undertaken swiftly, said Fenley; a new building could be erected in around three months. “But the priority right now is to look into upgrading the AW139 simulator, so we can cater for more customers. That’s the initial plan.”

However, the academy is also looking at the possibility of growing its activities into fixed-wing training. “We’re thinking of expanding into this in the near future,” Fenley said. In particular, the academy is looking into providing training on smaller turboprops, as well as on executive jets. Private jets could be chartered out to academy clients when not required for training sorties, providing another revenue stream.

With few turboprops operating in the Gulf, this would suggest that the source of pilots undergoing training on them would again come from regions such as Africa, where they are ubiquitous.

Alan Dron

Alan Dron

Alan Dron is air transport editor at Arabian Aerospace for which he has written since its launch.