North Sea ATC/FIS operations

The early days of the FlS for helicopters on the North Sea, initially in the Brent Field, mid-way between the Shetlands and Norway.  The ATSU was in one of those Portakabins next to the helideck.  The “Nordraug” was a semi-submersible – every so often, it would need to up-anchor and move.  Explosives on the sea bed were triggered with a radio signal and it was thought that there could be a problem with the FIS’s VHF transmitters!  The captain then had to phone through with the new position and the new helideck elevation and QFE datum! – John Faulkner

see also Harry Hockney North Sea Portfolio

for the later ATS provided from Aberdeen see ATC at Aberdeen brochure 1984

Brent Field HFIS, Nordraug, c 1977OIL1

Brent Field HFIS, the “Nordraug”, c 1977

Brent ESB


Brent Field ESB Chris Stock on the right

East Shetland Basin Experience

Most photos by Roy Kendall, text from Chris Stock. The two photos of Nordraug come from Andy Rackham.

the links below show the East Shetland basin route structure

ESB routes 1989

The route structure did not change very much from the start of ATC services. ATC was procedural approach with deck landings under the “control” of the Helideck Landing Officers. Separation was based on pilot reports using Decca and rig approaches used a combination of NDBs and the aircraft weather radars when closing in on the platform.

ESB 2012

Routes to and from the basin have not changed much but within the ESB, surveillance is available through MLAT.


OIL3  Nordraug

The first home of offshore ATC after a decision had been taken to provide air traffic services to helis en-route to the offshore platforms and within the East Shetland Basin (ESB)

Nordraug cabin

OIL4 Nordraug cabin

The first ATC cabin – visual lookout zero!

My beautiful picture

OIL 5 Cormorant A

Permanent location of ATC and Brent Log – the logistics element of the operation. The cabin can be seen against the helideck overlooking the drilling deck. Additional hazards were large helicopters landing above the cabin and the occasional crane swinging its load of pipes striking the cabin loosening everyone’s teeth fillings!!

My beautiful picture

OIL6  Brent B

In the event of a radio silence on CORA or an emergency, ATC was transferred to the Brent B. The ATC cabin is the unit hanging on the side of the platform to the right of the Brent B signage.

My beautiful picture

OIL7  Brent Log cabin

A close up view of the ATC cabin on CORA

new brent log 2

OIL8  New Brent Log

Move from old cabin to improved accommodation – the unit sitting alongside the helideck

My beautiful picture

OIL9  New Brent Log

An upgrade of ATC facilities

My beautiful picture

OIL10  Treasure Finder

Semi-sub accommodation platform – offshore hotel with 2 helidecks and a hangar.

My beautiful picture

OIL11 Chinook approaching

Chinook approaching a semi-sub platform

My beautiful picture

OIL12 Chinook 2

Chinook landing on CORA just above the ATC cabin – a lot of vibration and noise!

My beautiful picture

OIL13  Queen of the skies S61

G-BCEA approaching to land – the most comfortable and spacious of all the offshore aircraft. A full Chinook carried 44 pax and 1 cabin crew everyone sitting tightly in survival suits with very little legroom or seat width whereas the S61 carried 19 with room to stretch your legs.

My beautiful picture

OIL14  Bell 214 bus

The workhorse of the ESB. The Bells were based on Treasure Finder and other platforms. Early morning, they would transfer large numbers of personnel between the accommodation platforms and the drilling platforms. In the evening the reverse process would take place. These were periods of high intensity workloads which, if combined with the en-route traffic would cause interesting procedural problems. When not carrying out shuttles, the Bell 214 would act as a bus moving personnel and cargo around the ESB on an agreed timetable.

My beautiful picture

OIL15  Arthur Hughesdon and Martin Stammers at work in the new facilities.

My beautiful picture

OIL16  Andy Rackham in the original CORA cabin

My beautiful picture

OIL17  Just passing

Harry Hockney, SATCO ESB at work in the original CORA cabin with the bus just passing by!

Wind increasing

OIL18  Wind increasing

There were days when the weather got a bit rough and flying ceased. Highest gust I experienced was 120 kts and the platforms shuddered.

02 (1)

OIL 19 one of the “aerodromes” in the Brent Field.  Final approach to the semi-submersible Vildkat, moored alongside Brent Bravo

OIL 20 Montage of heli photos by John Faulkner




One thought on “North Sea ATC/FIS operations”

  1. Great piece! One small correction – The Bell Helicopters based on the Treasure Finder were 212’s not 214’s, although the photo OIL14 does show a 214.. The 214’s (4 of them) were all Aberdeen based and were larger than the 212’s. GBFER was one of the 212’s and when Brent moved to Aberdeen in 19?? there was a cartoon depiction of Echo-Romeo flying above an Offshore installation with the caption ‘Have you Rogered Echo Romeo today?’. As I recall, the most common transmission heard from the Brent Controllers was ‘Echo-Romeo, Roger’.

    Nick Johns
    NATS Aberdeen


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