Pictures like these are well known: an oil well that has caught fire, producing black clouds of smoke rising high. Often it takes weeks until experts are able to extinguish the fire. Similar in subsea situations where the oil flows unhindered out of the seafloor, endangering large areas of submarine habitats through polluted water.
These risks, however, could be reduced in future thanks to a trailblazing innovation presented by Oil Spill Response Ltd, a Southampton, UK-based specialist in fighting oil spills, in
collaboration with Antonov Airlines and Charter Broker Chapman Freeborn Airchartering. Jointly, they managed to transport an entire capping stack on board an AN-124 to test whether flying this
equipment as a single piece is a feasible option to sea transport. In this case, Antonov deployed one of their large AN-124 freighters to carry the fully assembled subsea capping stack and
housing, which weighed a massive 85.5 tons, measuring 11.5 x 5.5 x 3.9 meters.
There were no realistic options to the AN-124
The large Antonov freighter aircraft was chosen for the flight after an extensive logistics study by Chapman Freeborn. Its ability to travel up to 5,000 km with a 120-ton payload without refueling, self-loading/off-loading capabilities, which removes the necessity for a main deck loader, and availability on the European spot market cemented the choice.
The rather short test flight, taking off from Stavanger Airport in Norway and landing there after the technical trials were successfully accomplished on board the aircraft, lasted exactly 1:23h.
The mission’s outcome is highly encouraging, proving that in future it will be possible to transport an entire capping stack by air. This enables specialists to reach remote oil spills much faster and cap the wells more quickly.
So far, flying capping stack equipment to their deployment location was time consuming because the piece had to be disassembled prior to being loaded on board an aircraft, needed to be partitioned and stowed in different boxes and reassembled at the airport of arrival, before it could be moved to the site of operation. An extremely time-consuming exercise.
No wonder, that Sales Manager Martin Griffiths of Antonov Airlines’ UK office reacted joyfully upon the return of the AN-124 and after having been informed about the encouraging results: “This
was a very important test flight, as this represents the first time anyone has transported a capping stack on an aircraft that would be used in the event of an oil spill emergency, enabling a
much quicker response anywhere in the world,” stated the manager.
He went on to say: “We faced a variety of challenges including limited clearance for the cargo, the weight and size of the capping stack itself and its effect on the flight, as well as the requirement to load it fully assembled, as would have to be the case in an actual oil spill scenario.”
CF sat in the driver’s seat
Chris Lund, Technical Manager for OSRL’s team, agreed with Griffiths: “When every minute counts, the number one priority is stopping the flow of hydrocarbons as quickly as possible. The ability to transport a fully assembled capping stack by air is a critical development for the industry.”
“Sea transport remains the most likely mobilization option for the majority of well sites, but for wells in more remote areas, this is a vital addition to our subsea capping and containment offering,” he added.
Finally, Daniel Carriett, Director of Cargo Operations at Chapman Freeborn, stated: “Chapman Freeborn has worked with OSRL for many years and we’re proud to have been involved in this industry first test flight.”
A very modest position. After all, it was broker CF sitting in the driver’s seat, coordinating all steps closely with Antonov Airlines and the OSRL experts to bring the mission to a good result.