Faring Well—Resiliency and Preparation Characterize Fairweather Team
Complex logistics. Unforgiving weather. Bears… These are just some of the major challenges that come with resource development in Alaska. They are also precisely where support service company Fairweather (ranked number eighty-three on this year’s Corporate 100) has excelled for the last forty-five years.
There is no question that support services play a vital, necessary role in responsible development in Alaska. And if there is one company that can support industry across the board in this state, it is Fairweather. What began as a weather observation provider for the aviators supporting remote industry sites has grown to include an entire array of services for Alaska’s resource developers.
Fairweather—founded in 1976 by pilot Sherron Perry—provides services to clients in the oil and gas, mining, commercial fishing, and construction industries; it even provides support for scientific expeditions. Alaska’s aviation industry has also benefitted greatly from the use of Deadhorse Aviation Center, a facility jointly owned by Fairweather’s parent company Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation.
“The attitude that [Perry] helped create and that still exists in Fairweather all these years later is about, ‘What does the client need and how can we help achieve their goals in some of these really harsh and challenging places?’” says Rick Fox, CEO and co-owner of Fairweather. “That’s where our expertise grew.”
As the oil and gas boom helped Alaska’s economy expand, Fairweather did some expanding of its own. The company added exploration and production support activities such as logistics and drilling support, remote medical support, meteorological and oceanographic forecasting, airstrip support, and even bear guard security to its list of offerings.
“I think a lot of our growth is in response to hearing what the needs of the clients are and adapting, being innovative, and trying to find solutions for operating in remote Alaska,” says Sally Marinucci, business manager at Fairweather. “And I know now that we have Deadhorse Aviation Center and are part of the Edison Chouest Offshore family of companies, [Fairweather] has obviously grown exponentially to what we are providing today.”
Fox also notes that Fairweather leverages a combination of Alaskan know-how and significant capital investment from ECO.
“The Chouest family of companies are an outstanding resource to us. They were a contractor to me when I was at Shell many years ago and I had enormous appreciation for their capabilities,” he says. “They’re a resource for us in many areas, but they also help provide capital for things like the Deadhorse Aviation Center.”
Thanks to ECO’s resources, Fairweather can reach out to affiliated companies with other areas of expertise to provide solutions to clients. The affiliations also provide additional benefits to Fairweather employees such as competitive health benefits and insurance options.
Geographically speaking, Fairweather has served virtually every part of the state, from the Aleutians to the North Slope to the Panhandle. The company’s diverse set of services allow it to serve multiple industries at the same time.
Meanwhile, Fairweather’s original aviation support services segment has remained one of its main businesses.
“All the aviation support is still a core business for us,” says Fox. “We’re probably the only provider of remote runway systems—the complete airport-in-a-box package. You just put the gravel down, we’ll get you certified, do all the lights, weather stations, everything.”
Fairweather has also seen plenty of demand for its Quality, Health, Safety, and Environment (QHSE) support services. One facet of those QHSE services is North Slope Training Cooperative (NSTC) training to Fairweather employees.
According to Ezequiel Chalbaud, Fairweather’s director of QHSE, his specialty has a reputation for requiring extensive networks of systems, policies, and procedures as well as copious documentation. While those aspects are important, Chalbaud says it is arguably just as important to combine that systematic approach with a personal component to gain buy-in from each employee.
Fairweather employees in Anchorage participate in a citywide clean up.
Marinucci and Chalbaud agree that the QHSE team has become so integrated within Fairweather’s COVID-19 response that a great amount of focus has been placed on the “H” of “QHSE.” This includes physical health and mental health. The pandemic has given Fairweather the opportunity to bring health to the forefront of the QHSE field and take a more in depth look at a whole health approach for its employees.
“QHSE is a very personal thing. It’s truly based on person-to-person interactions and actively caring for each other,” says Chalbaud. “So it’s a way to marry the system-based processes with what makes an individual tick; what do you care about? What motivates you to stay healthy and motivates those around you to do the same? And that’s what’s so satisfying about this field—you get to touch on people’s core values and expand into the workplace and the processes by which you work.”
“The attitude that [Perry] helped create and that still exists in Fairweather all these years later is about, ‘What does the client need and how can we help achieve their goals in some of these really harsh and challenging places?’”
Even prior to the pandemic, this aspect of Fairweather’s operations has proven to be a source of continuous business, helping boost company growth.
“The medical and the health parts have become a bigger part of our company than I expected,” says Fox. “But we’ve got the right services now to provide a balance and we’re just getting better at all of them. If the state allows for the continued development on the North Slope, it’ll be a very good several years for us.”
Then there are the bears. Considering the remote nature of its clients’ work, protecting crews from overly curious wildlife has become another Fairweather specialty. In fact, many Fairweather personnel are cross-trained as bear guards to provide additional project support, all in accordance with the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Part of Fairweather’s success can be traced to the relationships it has cultivated in the business community.
According to Marinucci, the company has current and active memberships with multiple trade associations, including the Alaska Miners Association, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the Anchorage and Alaska Chambers of Commerce, and Resource Development Council.
Fairweather bear guards participate in a skills check and training class.
“We try to be very active with all of those trade associations for a variety of reasons,” she explains. “It’s mutually beneficial, it provides a way to educate our staff on some local challenges within different sectors in Alaska that may affect our clients and services.”
In addition to trade associations, Fairweather is an active supporter and collaborator with the Alaska Safety Alliance (ASA), especially when it comes to NSTC certification—one of the most essential requirements for workers on the Slope.
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Fox believes that Fairweather’s all-Alaskan personnel is what sets the company apart.
“I would say that if you went to one of our locations and saw how we manage safety, you would say that there’s a lot of ownership and teamwork around that,” says Fox. “People are looking out for each other and being proactive to prevent [accidents]. You would see a sort of esprit de corps, if you will, around that issue—no one putting it off on somebody else. It’s people that care about each other, want to be safe, and have the right tools to do it.”
A little more than a year ago the pandemic and falling oil prices caused many of Fairweather’s clients to cancel planned activities, which had an immediate impact on Fairweather’s own workload. Other issues like testing, quarantines, and travel soon became logistical challenges as well.
“We’re probably the only provider of remote runway systems—the complete airport-in-a-box package. You just put the gravel down, we’ll get you certified, do all the lights, weather stations, everything.”
Fairweather works with clients to find safe solutions that allow work to continue while protecting both the clients’ people and its own. Marinucci notes this has been and continues to be an ever-changing effort.
“We found ways to get involved in supporting communities around the state as well,” she says. “We are proud to have been able to support our clients and our community with COVID-19 testing, monoclonal antibody infusions, and COVID-19 vaccinations. We are also very proud of our service at the Alaska Airlines Center, providing upwards of 1,000 COVID-19 vaccinations per day.”
Guy Miyagishima, general manager at Fairweather, adds that Fairweather’s entire year in 2020 is an example of the company’s diligent and engaged approach to business. “That goes for everything from our people volunteering to work on their time off to help the community, help the state, help the company, and help our clients with COVID to people from companies coming to us, saying ‘Listen, we know that you guys are providing these services, and on my time off from my regular job, I’d like to be part of Fairweather.’”
A GROL Electrician installing an airstrip in Black Rock City, Nevada (also known as the location for Burning Man), pictured here next to a Fairweather wind sock.
Flying into the Future
Without hesitation, Fox credits the people that make up Fairweather’s workforce as the key differentiator when it comes to the reasons their clients and partners choose to work with the company. And with a 100 percent Alaska-based workforce, resiliency and preparation are key characteristics for Fairweather personnel.
“It’s the culture that we have that our clients appreciate, the culture around safety makes it part of our success story, if you will. We have a quite a range of services that allows us to survive—when things go wrong in one area we manage to get through another.”
Bob Baker, a Fairweather Bear Guard in Southeast Alaska, on assignment.
Fox feels confident about the road ahead, re-emphasizing Fairweather’s diverse offerings and potential developments in the Western North Slope, ANWR, and even in the continued dialogue surrounding natural gas. Out of all that is possible in Alaska’s industrial future, only a portion of that potential development needs to come to fruition for Fairweather to fully thrive in 2021 and beyond.
“I have to admit that the biggest way that we know we’re doing well is not by those nice emails [from clients], but by them calling us up and asking us to do more work. The truth is, when they want you to come help them again… that’s how we’ve grown.”
“A lot of our growth is in response to hearing what the needs of the clients are and adapting, being innovative, and trying to find solutions for operating in remote Alaska,”