Anthony Vieira is the managing director of Hummingbird Helicopter Services Limited (HHSL). His company which was officially registered in 2002, is one of the best examples of a homegrown energy services company that has evolved in Trinidad and Tobago. HHSL is a provider of safety and survival training. Vieira, a helicopter pilot with over 10 years of training and over 10,000 helicopter flight hours under his belt was responsible for building the company to what it is today. Recognising the growth of the energy sector in Trinidad and Tobago, HHSL has seen the need to grow from only providing helicopter survival training to providing a suite of offshore and onshore safety training and services within Trinidad and Tobago and to Guyana, Suriname, and Colombia and as far away as the Falkland Islands. HHSL also offers safety advisory services and rescue services from their base in Pt Lisas Industrial Estate.
Vieira saw the need for safety training since 1986, when Amoco the then major oil company in Trinidad and Tobago, had no formal training for people going offshore to work on rigs and platforms. Amoco, contacted his employer, at the time it was Bristow, to determine what training could be provided. Vieira who was trained in the United Kingdom for survival training, was asked to develop a programme to deliver to Amoco. The first set of training was provided in open waters in Guayaguayare. Though the facilities were crude and difficult to work with, training continued there from 1986-1988.
When BP purchased Amoco in 1997, more stringent safety systems were required and therefore the demand for the training increased. Recognising this, Vieira knew that the helicopter underwater escape training would become part of the required training for the company. Things took off in this same year when other companies adopted a similar approach and began requesting the training and when BP made the training mandatory, other companies also followed.
Growth of the company was slow in the beginning and Vieira and HHSL faced many challenges. According to Vieira, finance was a major obstacle to overcome since at the time, the safety industry was new to the country and getting financing through the bank was difficult. HHSL invested $3m in 2005 for equipment and OPITIO certification. This was financed through the cash flow and personal investment and was repaid within five years.
In 2001, Vieira saw the opportunity to not limit HHSL to survival training only, it was decided that they would incorporate all modules of an offshore safety training programme – which is now offered to OPITO (Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Programme) safety standards, which is a very rigorous safety standard based in the UK. This allowed HHSL to provide training to a globally recognised standard which set them above other competitors within the country. This certification also allows persons who complete the training to work all over the world using this trusted standard.
Initially there was also a difficulty in getting buy-in from the international oil companies (IOC) to accept their services and to compete with foreign services providers. Local content issues have always plagued them. HHSL however was able to seek international certifications which was able to lift the image of the company and made it easier for the IOCs to accept their services. HHSL is proud to be one of the only companies within the Americas which can offer the OPITO certified training programmes. HHSL has also received recognition from the British Safety Council in 2014, with Distinction.
Vieira also noted that information was very challenging when they were developing. Data on HSE within Trinidad and Tobago was not easily found and also developments in international HSE was also difficult to obtain. Information on suppliers of specialised HSE equipment was also difficult to find. One of the ways that Vieira overcame this, was by joining membership organisations both locally and internationally. This gave him the opportunity to keep abreast of global trends and also allowed them to be afforded the opportunities to participate in international forums and conventions to meet suppliers, companies and potential clients. This often led to signing MOUs with foreign companies and even countries to work together in Trinidad and Tobago and in other locations.
Vieira also provides some advice for developing energy services companies. He says “Know your competition and your competitors, learn everything about them and work towards being better than them”. He also notes that in the energy sector, your competition can be both local and international. He encourages companies to be recognised locally, but should also focus on achieving international certification and operating to international standards or global best practice. He went on to urge companies, “Strive for having higher levels of competence and capabilities, so when a company contracts you, they are sure that your company and your people operate at a recognised standard”.
Vieira also notes that based on the nature of the work that energy service companies engage in they can be called on to provide services abroad on short notice. This makes it essential to have your company in good standing with international certification so that you are able to compete effectively with other international service companies. Vieira also indicates that the Safe to Work initiative (STOW) is an important certification, since it assures that your company operates safely and can deliver your service in a safe manner and is accepted by the international oil companies here in Trinidad and Tobago.