McDermott Aviation: Moving Forward Amidst COVID-19

TracPlus spoke with the team at McDermott Aviation about what they’re doing to protect their business against the threat COVID-19 places on their livelihood.

In business, there are always peaks and troughs. As many aviation operators have pointed out, there have been many challenges that the commercial aviation world has faced, yet overcome — including oil price spikes, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the 2008-09 global financial meltdown. Each time commercial aviation has recovered and grown stronger, resuming its long-held trend of outpacing global economic growth. 

There is no denying that this is a challenging time for operators, but many of our customers are staying positive and using this time to grow, upskill and connect with their market in new ways.

We spoke with Australia's aviation powerhouse, McDermott Aviation, about how they have shifted their focus as a response to the challenges COVID-19 has thrown them.

How has the team at McDermott Aviation reacted to COVID-19 so far?

Look — these things never come at a ‘good’ time, but we feel very lucky that this hasn’t hit in the middle of the horrific bushfire season that we have just experienced here in Australia. For aerial firefighting operators, we are naturally starting to move into a “quieter” season. There are still fires burning and we still have contracts running in Western Australia, but not at the force they were over the peak of the summer months.  

What we’ve had to do for those crew members is segment everyone. There is always going to be some interactions, of course, as our work is highly collaborative - such as refuellers who have to talk to pilots about how much fuel they’re putting in etc. But we’ve spilt all of our operations into little pieces where possible. Our ground crew are all set up in different shifts in different areas to minimise any cross-pollination there. 

When we are switching between aircraft, we are being more pedantic ensuring each aircraft has been scrubbed and disinfected between use. Our staff are usually assigned to an aircraft for the duration of its maintenance release, so that also helps. 

Where possible, our team is working from home if their role allows. But fires take no head to pandemics!

How are you using this time in different ways?

McDermott Aviation are generally engaged year-round with fire fighting and aerial work activities - with border lockdowns and general concerns for staff well being, we have limited our activities significantly. We are using this time to expand our routine preventive maintenance schedules in preparation for upcoming fire seasons and other operations, which will ultimately be required. This is keeping our existing engineering staff, including those who would normally be ‘in the field’ extremely busy. This will position us to be well prepared for the next fire season. 

Flight crew wise, there’s less operational flying for them and more time for training which will help them move into next season.

I won’t say that this issues a blessing in disguise because it’s truly a tragedy, but if the world gives you lemons, then make lemonade.

One issue we have to face is that we don’t know when these travel restrictions will fall by the wayside, including shipping. Obviously freight has slowed down, so moving things around quickly has been difficult. Thankfully we have a fixed-wing component to the company, so we can move AOG parts around by ourselves very quickly, so that’s been a great benefit to us and our clients obviously. 

Australia is very well equipped in the aviation space, as we have to be with the environmental challenges we face, as well as the large scale of the country. McDermott is a large and diverse team, which means that we usually have a full crew for every aspect of the business. 

Because we have a local complement of flight crew that are Australian or Australian-based, it means we have been able to pick up work that others might not have, others who rely on overseas crews who may have had to go home to the USA, Canada or New Zealand. 

However, if this situation continues into the warmer months, it may be challenging to get the support we need from overseas contractors. 

Will these travel restrictions mean you won’t be able to support the North American wildfire season like you normally would?

It will definitely be limited, but obviously it’s likely that we will work to make things happen in a crisis — as our support is always reciprocal. But things are changing daily, so I guess we will cross that bridge at the time. 

Currently, we did have plans to send 3 or 4 214’s overseas to do some work, spread between Canada and America. These aircraft have a great capacity and footprint — I say footprint because it’s only the size of a 212 but twice the capacity, so you can fit them nicely into a fire ground, staging base or refuelling area and they don’t take up a huge amount of space compared to a Blackhawk or a crane. 214’s are a little smaller but the weight of attack is very similar. We’ve proved over the 17 years we have operated them as to their worth and reliability.

Regardless, it might be challenging to get these machines in or out or Australia, so everything seems to be on hold for now. 

How is the team at McDermott helping their staff stay secure in their jobs?

We’ve definitely gone out to all of our flight crew and in an effort to keep everyone employed. We’ve asked if there are any little parts of the business where the pilots can help to assist, whether it’s in our components shop or in other parts of the business. A lot of our pilots are ex engineers, so we can use other skills that the guys have if they want, just to make them more useful and to push the company into a better place.

We are also using this time to get the team better clued up on our maintenance systems and other technologies like TracPlus. Using this time to better build out these functionalities and systems is key to help streamline work when we’re busy.

All in all, we’re taking things one day at a time. We are doing our best to use this time to slow down, take a breath and better our business in other ways.


Is COVID-19 threatening your business? Talk to us at TracPlus today about how we can support you during these testing times.

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Is COVID-19 threatening your business? Talk to TracPlus today about how we can support you during these testing times.

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