Happy landing for high-flying helicopter firm

Set up as Air Whaling by Alan Bristow in 1953, Bristow's first oil-related flight was in the Persian Gulf in 1955.

To those not in the know, one of the first difficulties when thinking about Bristow Helicopters is finding the place.

Yet despite being tucked away at Norwich International airport, the company which relocated in Norfolk from the North-East a decade ago is keen to make its presence felt in the country.

Bristow Helicopters transports on average 50,000 passengers in and out to the gas fields in the Southern North Sea through the terminal at Norwich airport.

And in a sign of its commitment to the area it has invested �3.5m upgrading its facilities.

Taking a walk round, it is no surprise that Bristow is proud of the investments it has made.

These include a new hangar for its six Norwich-based helicopters and a new terminal facility for crews heading to and from the North Sea platforms.

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More recently it has created a new operations centre and has this month opened a new administration area, equipped with the latest state-of-the-art facilities, such as video-conferencing, so that staff can remain in close contact with the rest of the substantial worldwide Bristow operation.

The facilities are a far cry from the temporary structures put in place when Bristow first set up a base here after moving down from the North-East.

Phil Hume, Bristow's customer liaison officer, said the investment represented a considerable commitment by the company to its Norfolk-based operation.

'We are coming to the end of phase one of the redevelopment of the infrastructure to our operation,' he said. 'So far we have considerably extended the size of the apron, and also installed new airfield lighting. And we have added a new hangar and passenger-handling facility where our passengers receive a safety brief and put on their life-savhelicopters.'

Bristow has contracts to take staff working for Shell, Conoco Phillips and BP to and from rigs in the Southern North Sea.

That sees an average of 480 flights a month from Norwich in the peak period, dropping to about 300 in the quieter winter season. And there are also about 80 staff working out of the Norwich operation, while Bristow has also moved more teams including finance staff into its Norwich base.

Like most businesses, times are tough and there have been signs of companies scaling back on flights.

But Mr Hume said there was more investment to come and Bristow was also keeping an eye on developments in the emerging offshore wind farm industry to see what opportunities it could tap into there.

'The final fit-out to the new administration complex is also nearing completion. This �3.5m shows a great commitment in investment to our operation to safeguard jobs within Bristow Helicopters, Norwich airport and the quality of service we give our clients passengers.

'We are not involved at the moment, but we are looking at how we can service the offshore wind farm industry,' he said. 'We are always looking for new contracts and this investment will allow us to grow even further. By having the extra hanger space it allows us to expand if we need extra aircraft.

'We are a major contributor to the economic growth of Norwich International airport and the various companies we have dealings with in the surrounding areas of not only Norwich but throughout Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Holland.

'We also have operations at Humberside Airport and Den Helder in North Holland and I believe we are a success story,' he added.

'The idea is we are here for the long term, when we first moved here it was a small operation, but it has grown to become a multi-million pound operation and that's why we needed the extra infrastructure.'