弗拉基米尔 Skurikhin, VERTICAL-T公司
Release Date: 2010-10-07Vladimir Skurikhin, General Director of Vertical-T, has been interviewed by Russianavia.net to discuss the history and the current operations of Vertical-T, the challenges of a growing helicopter company and its prospects on the international stage.
Mr. Skurikhin, we would like to introduce you better to our readers. As a former military helicopter pilot, maybe you could tell us how you arrived in civil aviation and to Vertical-T in particular?
I used to serve in military aviation till the time when the military forces were reduced and it was decided to create a civil aviation company to help military pilots adapt to the civil life. So, I retired in 1995 to become a civil pilot and headed Vertical-T in 1996. At the time of our setting up the company, the EMERCOM (The Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters) was also taking shape. As they had no crews, we were operating heavy Mi-26 helicopters in the flash points for them. Gradually the company was gaining more international experience and we started taking on additional crews, more civil pilots and expanded to over 150 pilots and 26 helicopters. Besides, we took the first Cessna 182 aircraft and now we plan to find a suitable aircraft for regional transportation in Russia.
What were the first missions that the company took over and how did it evolve with the development of new sectors like oil and gas and rescue operations?
The helicopters were operated in remote regions characteristic for severe geographic conditions. We also operated a lot in Africa mainly for the UN in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Congo and other countries, in Europe – for fire fighting operations in Greece and Cyprus, and for assembly works in Germany and France. In Asia, we were present in East Timor and Pakistan, and we currently work for peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan. Concerning the Russian market, we have operated in the remote regions such as Kamchatka and Chukotka. We have recently acquired an enterprise in Murmansk region involved in tourism doing local transportation. As for the oil and gas sector, our customers are companies from the Far East, such as Kamchatka, Chukotka and Western Siberia.
One of the new trends in the Russian oil and gas industry is the development of offshore operations. Obviously, this requires a lot of helicopter support. Is Vertical-T interested in tapping into that sector?
We have made our bid for the Stockman field that is being developed in Murmansk region. We also have some developments in the Far East of Russia and hope that it is going to be developing as well.
Generally, we keep an eye on offshore oil and gas operations.
Former military pilots in Europe complain that it is challenging to get back to civil life after military service. How was it for you to get back to civil life?
It’s true in general however in my experience, I was serving on transport helicopters, and have been continuing this kind of work for my civil operations. Of course, taking tourists around the world is more fun, but our professionalism is wanted in the ‘hot spots’.
What was the most difficult in the transition from scratch to a company that operates a fleet of 26 helicopters?
If you know how to do business with one helicopter, the quantity no longer matters. If our business requires as much as, say, a hundred helicopters, we will get them to meet the requirements of bigger volume operations.
What is the main factor limiting the company’s growth today – demand or internationalization?
Our development is mainly defined by the demand for helicopters on the world market with severe competition. We take on as much as needed.
What makes Vertical-T different in terms of competition?
Once the key advantage is known by competitors it stops to be any advantage at all. That’s why I would rather not specify on the matter. Generally, I can say that our advantage is a combination of the right company development strategy, the competent policy in the field of human resource management, and besides, a quick reaction to changes on the market.
Retaining the pilots and engineers is one of the key points in the industry as these guys are so sought for. How does Vertical-T ensure they stay with the company even if they get more lucrative offers?
At first sight it may seem that the fact of earnings corresponding to the market is the most significant motive for the pilots and engineers to stay with the company. But social factors are no less important. Although the pilots and engineers of Vertical-T are the main part of the company human resource, we try to take an individual approach to every member of the staff paying most attention to each of them. Knowing that they realize they work for the common goal. Only adhering to this approach can keep the team together for many years.
How are the Russian and the international part of your business related in terms of volume?
The foreign market is 80% so far. However we have increased our operations on the Russian market in 2010 after a big slump during the crisis in 2008-2009.
With a special maintenance center, how do you ensure the required level of quality is controlled outside of Russia, especially in the remote regions?
Our linear facilities are equipped with high quality equipment. For instance, we have a good facility in Afghanistan used by a lot of Russian and foreign aviation companies as a more cost-effective solution.
You have mentioned that you would rather engage in more ‘easy’ tourist transport… You have just completed the first tourist flight to Alaska. How hopeful are you that tourism is to become one of the growth factors for Vertical-T?
Popular points of interest are visited by large numbers of tourists, but exploring remote areas with severe conditions can be no less attractive. Very few air companies deal with this kind of tourism. Well, we would like to show areas of Alaska described by Jack London to the Russian tourists and the ‘savage’ Far East of Russia to the American tourists.