Syed Azman's love for flying machines

  • Business
  • Saturday, 22 Feb 2014

TAN Sri Syed Azman Syed Ibrahim’s training in the military may have something to do with how he plans for new business. Instead of reacting to the terms of a new contract, he’d rather have his helicopters on standby in case he wins more jobs.

The cost of doing so is expensive. With the helicopter business being capital intensive, and to secure more contracts, Syed Azman knows he will need more helicopters. Typically a helicopter will cost about US$20mil (RM66mil), depending on size and capacity.

Weststar Aviation Services Sdn Bhd (WAS) has 34 Agusta Westland AW139 aircraft and has ordered 10 more at a cost of RM600mil at the Singapore Air Show. Delivery is expected in two years’ time. WAS also has several Eurocopter EC225 and Sikorsky S-76 C++ helicopters bringing its fleet to 40.

“In this business, you must have the vehicles before you bid for jobs and that is why we are ordering even before getting the contracts. There is global demand for 40 helicopters for the oil and gas sector over the next 12 months and if we can get to supply 10, that will be a great headstart,’’ says Syed Azman, the group managing director of Weststar group of companies.

Maybank Investment Bank senior analyst Mohshin Aziz says the demand for onshore and offshore helicopter services is huge, not just from oil and gas companies but also other sectors including the Government.

WAS has RM8bil worth of contracts in hand. It has put in bids for new jobs and hopes to secure RM3bil worth of contracts this year. The bids are for jobs in Malaysia, Australia and Africa.

WAS currently operates out of seven bases – five in Malaysia and one each in southern Thailand and Mauritiana, Its clientele list includes companies such as Petronas Carigali, ExxonMobil, Carigali Hess, Tullow Oil, Newfield, Talisman, Petrofac, Schlumberger, HESS, Shell, Mubadala Petroleum, CGG Veritas and Conoco Philips.

About 50% of its RM8bil contracts are from Petronas Carigali.

Syed Azman is looking to expand further into Africa and also South America. “Africa is where the next wave of oil and gas growth would be and we are positioning ourselves there to tap into that growth,’’ he adds.

Three weeks ago, it bagged a RM2bil seven-year contract from Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production, to provide offshore helicopter services for seven years. WAS has also secured a US$200mil job in Morocco to supply offshore aviation services.

Globally the helicopter market is controlled by Bristow Helicopters with a fleet size of 490 and Canadian Helicopters which operates 132 aircraft. WAS is creating waves in South-East Asia, but the challenge would be to secure more jobs before the wave of contracts dry up for the season.

Locally, it is up against MHS Aviation Bhd which started out as Malaysian Helicopter Services in 1983. MHS is now owned by Boustead Holdings Bhd and the company also provides helicopter service to oil and gas companies. “Our edge is our high safety standards, and our decision making is very fast compared with bigger companies.

At Weststar, I own it and I take the risk. That is why we are buying helicopters before bidding for jobs so that we can have the aircraft as soon as we win contracts,’’ Syed Azman says.

WAS has two arms – General Aviation and Oil & Gas Aviation. It is under General Aviation where a fleet of private jets are parked.

The group has four private jets for VIP flights. Those aircraft are used for corporate travelling and private charter.

“Like I said earlier, time is money and I hate wasting time so the jets are important for our travels. Imagine a group of five senior executives going for a meeting in Africa. They will probably spend many hours in airports and airplanes, and that means they have to be away from the office for many days. With our aircraft, they can get to the point, complete the business and return within a shorter time. That is why we invested in the jets.

“But we intend to sell two and just keep two,’’ he adds.

Related Story:

Weststar flying high

I am no front man I work for myself

Time is money for copter tycoon

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