Fast and Furious

Managing travel in the oil and gas sector is no easy task. One long-term wings client explains how the impossible is achieved every day

The old adage, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’, couldn’t be more true when looking at how one of West Africa’s leading offshore service companies manages hundreds of permanent staff plus thousands of freelance staff for the likes of Shell, Mobil, Chevron and Addax Petroleum.

“There is no Fast Track, no short cuts,” she explains. “Every personnel you put offshore must meet OGP (oil and gas production standard). We choose from a large pool of potential employees and use a tight selection process. Anyone with a black mark against them doesn’t get asked back.

“The biggest problem is getting the people at the right time, as a lot are freelancers so availability is challenging. We might not be able to get them if they’re working for someone else so planning ahead is key. Once we have a new project confirmed I make contact with them immediately. We need to keep in business so it’s a lot of pressure.”

Piling on even more pressure is the infrastructural shortcomings of the country, including the unreliability of the domestic carriers. A fuel shortage a couple of years ago saw one domestic airline grounded, for example.

“Nothing really works over here,” she says. “The airlines cancel flights so I have to bring the crew in early and absorb the cost of a hotel and meals, but that cost is nothing compared to blighting the project. You always need to have a Plan B in place. I only relax when the employee has arrived.”

Plan Bs might include flying travellers into a neighbouring state for a Delta state project, for example – a route often disrupted by flight cancellations – then switching to road transport to get them to their final destination.

In tandem with redundancies three years ago came a cut in travel budgets so class of travel was downgraded as one cost-cutting strategy. “Cost saving is a permanent driver,” she says while constantly balancing this issue with traveller wellbeing. “Some fares can be higher but more convenient so it’s always a trade off.”

One thing that she doesn’t budge on is any bookings influenced by airline loyalty club points. “The travellers don’t decide this one; the airline booking has to suit us in terms of the route, the timing and the cost.”

Helping the team coordinate worldwide travel and keep to tight travel budgets is Wings Travel Management. For the last 15 years they have been circumnavigating all the indigenous travel issues to ensure that her personnel get on and off the oil rigs on time.

“Wings have good staff and they are always quick to respond,” she says. “They achieve the goals we set and they always come up with a variety of quotes.” Wings provides a list of flight options to meet the brief, from flexible specialised offshore fares, to more restricted published fares. Travel may also include hotel bookings and transfers, and always, always Plan Bs.

Analysing costs is key and Wings’ portal, goData, provides at-a-glance details of supplier usage, traveller behaviour, advanced booking analysis, savings reports, incident management and highlevel personalised performance overviews.

The system also provides interactive traveller tracking functionality; a vital tool in emerging markets with limited infrastructure such as Africa. The latter includes interactive country maps showing travellers by location on any given date; interactive airport maps showing transiting travellers; and pretrip analysis, including countries, departures/arrival, hotels and associated trends, all with detailed graph and chart drill-down functionality.

Wings staff are expert in their field, having either long-term experience of the sector or as a graduate of the company’s own Energy Academy which is designed to give insight of how the oil and gas sector operates and how to solve their clients’ travel challenges even more effectively.

The year-long programme is split into quarterly phases, focussed on four different roles in the industry – Roughneck, Derrickhand, Driller and Rig Manager – with topics such as types of drilling platforms, exploration, typical rotational schedules, what life is like for a rig worker, life cycle of an oil field and history of the industry. To date, 100 consultants from around the world have graduated.

Moreover, following a decade of client servicing in Nigeria, Wings opened an office in Lagos four years ago, in addition to fully-owned and controlled operations in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. The team servicing this particular client works closely with Wings’ Nigeria operation in order to ensure that travellers are offered the best possible flight availability and fares, including Nigerian domestic low cost carriers which are not normally accessible from the UK. The Lagos operation also provides additional on-the-ground support to the client in the event of an emergency.

“It is essential to have a fast response, especially in emergency situations,” she says. “I need to mobilise a team and get them to the site as quickly and safely as possible.”

Once a crew has been hired they are on the payroll and so getting them out quickly and safely is very important. Similarly at the end of a project the team want to get home as soon as possible.

The team frequently use the Wings out of hours Emergency Support Team who will send alternative flights. Often the cost implication of changing to a new airline is less expensive than delaying a project.

But organising visas is the first job and Wings handles between 40-50 per month for the client, collecting passports and arranging for visas to be issued within 24 hours if necessary.

Teams are frequently flying from the UK, SA, Far East, Mexico, Ukraine or Russia and heading to Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Cameroon – wherever the project is taking place in West Africa.

The client clearly runs a tight ship and the hope is that even with signs of recovery in the oil and gas industry, those new, cost-cutting strategies will stick.


Article first published in 2018 in Wings’ BLUE magazine. To subscribe click here

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