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Tue 22 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

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Jet support

Relief operators call on aircraft charter specialists in massive tactical response to Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Jet support
Eliska Hill of Chapman Freeborn.
Jet support
Containment boom being palletised for loading destined for New Orleans.

Relief operators call on aircraft charter specialists in massive tactical response to Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Chapman Freeborn Airchartering has coordinated a series of aircraft charters to New Orleans, USA, to help tackle the leak from the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The global aircraft charter specialist has arranged flights departing from Europe and the Far East in response to the spill - described by US President Barack Obama as "potentially unprecedented."

Chapman Freeborn's UK office coordinated an initial cargo charter using a B747-400F aircraft to transport around 60 tons of technical oil spill equipment from East Midlands Airport in the UK to New Orleans. A B747-200F charter, managed by the company's Singapore team, also departed to New Orleans from Singapore with an additional 55 ton consignment.

Chapman Freeborn also arranged two further B747-200F charters to transport 80 tons of equipment from Qingdao, China, to New Orleans. Qingdao Airport (TAO) reported that the charters were the first time they have supported direct flights to the United States.

The company's passenger charter expertise was also called upon by a Netherlands-based salvage specialist company who were dispatched to the region in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater blow-out. International response teams are using a variety of measures in attempts to manage the Deepwater Horizon spill, which covers an area of around 2,000 square miles and presents a major threat to the region's eco-system as well as its economy.

The firm, which has its Middle East headquarters in Dubai's Airport Free Zone has a long standing relationship with Oil Spill Response, whose specific role is to provide equipment and support to oil spills all over the world.

"We have been working with them for over ten years as their preferred charter partner, so if they need to move equipment or goods such as dispersant to an area where there has been a spill, we provide cargo charter aircraft to do that," explains Eliska Hill, general manager of Chapman Freeborn in Dubai.
The company has an impressive pedigree of working with the upstream oil and gas business. "We are often called upon by the offshore industry, typically in situations where something has broken down and urgent parts or personnel are needed. Everything from small parts which just require a jet and an on board courier, right up to the largest equipment which can be lifted by air is within our remit."

When dealing with an oil spill speed is of the essence, so relationships with the carriers and where they are based, is vital in determining how fast they can move. "Some carriers are more organised and ready to deal with crisis scenarios such as oil spills," says Hill.

Flights from Singapore, China and the UK have attended to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The response has called on a wide variety of aircraft, including ferrying key personnel to New Orleans. "Our Amsterdam office arranged for a Dassault Falcon 7X executive jet to transport a team of seven experts to New Orleans - arriving within hours of reports of the incident," says Hill.

For large cargo loads where palletised loading can be used Hill says the Boeing 747 remains the aircraft of choice, "The 747 is a more cost-effective aircraft to use, and when size and shape limitations don't exist it makes sense to go with the most fuel efficient aircraft. Dispersants are all packaged in drums, so standard aircraft are perfectly suitable. You can move around 100 tonnes on a 747, but we actually shifted around 80 tonnes for the Gulf of Mexico job."

Chartering aircraft avoids many potential problems which crop up when trying to send freight on passenger, or even courier flights.

"The main reason for using a charter is to move a certain amount of equipment into a dedicated area at the time that you want to move it," she adds.

"With passenger flights there may be available belly-hold capcity, but if you need to move 80 tonnes of dispersant then there simply won't be room for that. Splitting it up over four or five flights runs the additional risk of losing material, breaking up the goods to be sent, and some may get delayed, all of which pose problems in an emergency situation, so really chartering is considered the best option," says Hill.