By : Lt Cdr Mohamad Sham Saimon RMN (Squadron 501)

With a 3000-meter runway that can accommodate standard fixed-wing aircraft up to Boeing 737-400, the small airport is owned and operated by PETRONAS (Petroleum Nasional Berhad). Most of the airport's operations are centered around the helicopters operated by Malaysia Helicopter Services (MHS) used for ferrying PETRONAS and EXXON MOBIL employees to their various oil platforms located 100-200 km offshore South China Sea.

The town where this airport is located was said to be a mere mangrove area that has geographically gone dry over the years. The local term for this is ‘kerotey’. And that was how it got its name, Kerteh.

Kerteh Airport, furthermore, has a weekday fixed-wing services handled by Firefly Malaysia between Kerteh Airport and Subang Airport. Weststar Aviation Services Sdn. Bhd. is also providing the same service regarding offshore flying in this region.


SUPER LYNX Air Crew at the DCA Control Tower




In conjunction with the CARAT EXERCISE 2011, (CARAT - Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training), that was held between the United States Navy and the Malaysian Armed Forces, a SUPER LYNX helicopter was attached to KD LEKIU as a force multiplier for the RMN Fleet. The playing war exercise started on June 5th and ended on June 15th 2011. KD LEKIU and KD LEKIR were alongside at Kemaman Port during harbour phase and Post Exercise De-brief (PXD). Based on the location of the mother ship and the operation area, SUPER LYNX air crew made a tour visit by road to Kerteh Airport. The purpose of the visit to the Kerteh Airport Tower and the PETRONAS office was to study the operation areas, the limit of Kerteh airspace, the flying procedures, as well as  the aviation facilities there.




SUPER LYNX helicopter parked at Kerteh Airport

On June 14th 2011, SUPER LYNX aircraft M501-3 made its maiden flight to Kerteh Airport and landed on its General Apron at 0800 Hours. The first mission was to conduct refuelling with the PETRONAS Refuelling Bowser. This is a mandatory requirement by Royal Malaysian Navy helicopters to have such aviation facilities when operating at civil airports. The bowser is capable of providing gravity or pressure refuelling which is required by the SUPER LYNX.

The General Apron of Kerteh Airport is also meant for parking fixed-wing aircraft like the Fokker 50 of Firefly Malaysia. Safe parking facility is highly required by any RMN helicopter and in this case, Kerteh Airport is a safely fenced-in area and is monitored by the Control Tower plus the Airport Police unit. The air crew took the opportunity to visit MHS operation room and had a few discussions on offshore flying regime around Kerteh and the South China Sea.




KD LEKIU and KD LEKIR alongside at Kemaman Port, Terengganu.



PETRONAS Refuelling Bowser approaching SUPER LYNX helicopter.


It is learned that Kerteh is the base for all operations by PETRONAS  in Terengganu. The company does not only oversee the oil platform operations off the state coast, but also manages petrochemicals production and crude oil refining in nearby Paka. Kerteh Airport, for this reason, caters mostly for the  flights to offshore oil platforms – be it helicopters or charter planes – for transporting PETRONAS staff between Kerteh, the platforms and Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport near Kuala Lumpur.

Kerteh is also the first town to have McDonald’s restaurant in Terengganu. Both Kerteh and Paka have a sizeable expatriate community who is stationed and employed at the oil platforms and refineries there. Other than PETRONAS and EXXON MOBIL, there are more than 60 offshore pipelines feeding into the gas and oil refineries. Many international companies like ESSO and SHELL have set up their outfits here.

 Basically, offshore platforms consist of 15 gas platforms and 35 oil platforms, static and mobile. Kelantan, the neighboring state, has also claimed to have discovered about 40 oil wells and soon will likely to have the highest number of oil rigs/fields in the Asian region. With this fact in hand, Kerteh is now an area which requires maximum safety aspects as it is a potential source of national income and power resources.

Kerteh airport which is located in between Kuantan RMAF base, Tanjung Gelang naval base and Gong Kedak RMAF base, on one hand, offers a suitable transit for military aircrafts such as SUPER LYNX and FENNEC. The airport can provide refuelling facilities and other aviation requirements for our operation on the east coast areas. A helicopter that operates from Tanjung Gelang, for instance, can always use Kerteh airport for refuelling and covers more flying range or endurance over the east coast.

On the other hand, Kerteh Airport can also become a transit for the aircrew to take crew rest time after flying in the area. All this while, RMN helicopters depend only on RMAF base in Kuantan or Gong Kedak. Since Kerteh Airport provides good aviation facilities and is in a suitable location, it is an excellent spot for any night stop requirement.

One of the naval co-businesses is to protect and preserve national resources including oil platforms, oil rigs and gas platforms or pipelines. It is important for the naval operation center to start considering Kerteh Airport as an alternative Forward Operational Base (FOB) in the region.  Detachment teams plus helicopters could be sent to Kerteh in case of national threat or conflict occurring in the surrounding areas or at sea. Helicopters can be launched to various areas including oil platforms to carry out Special Forces insertion or recovery.

JERUNG EMAS Exercise, conducted by the PASKAL is a yearly exercise concerning the safety of national installation at sea from any subversive act such as criminal, terrorism and piracy. This is an initiative towards the implementation of the order of Majlis Keselamatan Negara (MKN) No. 18. The best methods for PASKAL insertion are like tactical free fall and Fast Reaction Insertion and Extraction (FRIE); meanwhile, the simplest method is to land a helicopter on the oil rig’s helipad. This kind of operation is vital in rescuing lives and the offshore installations.

However, all air operations have only been handled by MHS since 1985. This is due to PETRONAS granting authorization only to MHS helicopters to operate at offshore installations. The involvement of naval aviator or RMAF pilot has been only as an observer onboard MHS helicopter. This limits the capabilities of PASKAL since the insertion could only be done by sending them in sea boats and they have to climb the oil platforms or rigs and later evacuated by MHS helicopter.


Negotiation has been prolonged for years in getting a special authorization by PETRONAS to let experienced RMN pilots do some Deck Landing Training onboard oil rigs. However, the negotiations are still undergoing and military helicopters are yet to be accepted to operate at offshore installations for the purpose of safety and rescuing lives, or even training. The disagreements by PETRONAS are still being discussed due to different doctrines used in terms of aviation management and insurance policies.



Typical Malaysia Oil Platform


Military helicopters or helicopters belonging to other government agencies should be used in up-keeping the safety and security of offshore installations. A mutual understanding should be achieved because the demand of training and make-ready of our Special Forces is more vital than prolonged discussions on Civil Aviation Authority and PETRONAS aviation regulations.  All military aircrafts are not bound by those regulations accept for demonstrating good compliance with all Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) requirements.

RMN should be able to make known to the people in the East Coast of what and how much helicopters can do in maintaining the sovereignty of Malaysian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Showing the presence of the naval helicopters that are capable of being ship-borne or base-operated is a means of deterrence to create the feeling of intimidation towards any subversive body or enemy of the state. Kerteh Airport is not a mandatory issue here since it is only an option for FOB. The main focal point is the Tanjung Gelang naval base, which in the future may have aviation facilities such as hangar, refueling bowser and logistic supports. The security of the whole East Coast region would be better improved if a naval air station or main FOB is established nearby Kuantan. A detachment of RMN helicopter can be stationed in the East Coast for a certain period or perhaps long term if the support for helicopter operation is earnestly considered.


The present New Generation Patrol Vessel (NGPV) based in Tanjung Gelang could highly utilise RMN helicopters as a force multiplier in various tasking and operations. In the meantime, submarines, future procurements of Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopters would also give the best combination of three dimensional warfare capabilities in the East Coast by the year 2020.


Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) over the South China Sea is still very less carried out in the East Coast region and we should go one step ahead by prioritizing and conducting MDA in the area. Kuantan RMAF Base, Tanjung Gelang Naval Base, Gong Kedak RMAF Base and now Kerteh Airport are some of the options for FOB. Helicopter operations are always beneficial to the interest of national security upon Malaysia offshore installations, fishing activities, tourism and safety of merchant trading ships. The visit to Kerteh Airport has not only given the crew much to learn about the present helicopter operations in the area, but also revealed ways and opportunities for the navy to enhance RMN aviation capabilities.



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22 Jul 2009 to 25 Jan 2010

by Lt Cdr Mohamad Sham Saimon RMN, OP FAJAR 5 Super Lynx Flight Commander

SUPER LYNX in action around the Gulf of Aden


The demand to protect Malaysian trading ships in the Gulf of Aden has finally evoked the conversion of MV BUNGA MAS LIMA as the first Naval Auxiliary Vessel. This is the joint effort between the government of Malaysia, Royal Malaysian Navy and the MISC. MV BUNGA MAS LIMA was modified to have aviation facilities such hangar and helipad. Therefore, the ship was tasked to carry out Op Fajar 5 since 22 Jul 2009. A complete team of Super Lynx detachment embarked the ship as a force multiplier other than the PASKAL, PASKAU (TUDM) and RGK (TDM).


MV BUNGA MAS LIMA (First Naval Auxiliary Vessel)

The Detachment Team

MV Bunga MAS LIMA has made a history to 501 Squadron to be the first merchant ship designated as mother ship for Super Lynx helicopter. 501 Squadron detachment team comprised of a pilot as flight commander, a Tactical Commander (TACCO) and an Air Quartermaster (AQM). The engineering team is headed by a Senior Maintenance Rating (SMR) and six other technicians to make sure the helicopter serviceability throughout the operation. As a complete team, a Helicopter Approach Controller (HAC) is also appointed for this mission in order to assist the air operation.


Different Flying Environment

Gulf of Aden has recently become the playing ground for Super Lynx helicopter. This area provides new condition for flying and extra challenges for the air crew to bear in mind. Though the humidity is less compared to Malaysia, the wind is greater in speed, which alters the flying state. In calm sea, wind normally blows from 20 to 30 knots but in rough sea condition it may reach up to 45 knots. All flying operations must be tackled with full situation alertness, and safety is the most paramount agenda. The Super Lynx is  specifically designed to operate in this phenomenon. It is all up to the pilot to judge the current situation and to decide a go for any flying operation.


PASKAL Transfer

The fastest mean to transfer PASKAL to MISC ship is by using Super Lynx. Adaptation to situation is brainstormed prior to every flight in order to get the best method. A set of PASKAL team together with their weapons and equipment would normally carry a certain payload and fuel/weight calculation must be precise. Combination of fast roping and winching is the best method to send the team to any MISC ship which is normally within 1 nautical mile position.

 Super Lynx is capable of doing fast roping for 6 PASKAL at one time and it will take not more than 2 minutes to clear all the men to the ship deck. However, their equipment has to be lowered down by winching for safety reason. This capability alleviates the transfer and normally the Super Lynx can send 1 to 2 teams of PASKAL if there are two MISC ships that require escort.


Lowering weapons and equipments by winching


Recovery of PASKAL

At certain point when a  boat is not suitable to be deployed, Super Lynx once again will settle the job to recover the PASKAL team from MISC Ship. The recovery method is slightly different from the transfer due to certain type of ship and situation. Combination of winching and spie rig is the best option for this task. However, there are times when only winching is appropriate to conduct the operation.


Spie Rig operation from a LNG ship


Royal Air Force Base Oman (RAFO)

After 4 months at sea, the Super Lynx suffered some corrosion problems and due for its servicing. Due to the sea condition and facilities, the problems cannot be resolved without the assistance from the Royal Air Force Oman (RAFO). Government to government dealing was made between Malaysia and Oman to fly the aircraft to RAFO and to carry out maintenance, corrosion survey and treatment. At the same time, the 501 Squadron sent an Aeronautical Engineering Officer (AEO) and a technician from Lumut to assist the detachment at RAFO.


Super Lynx parked at Royal Air Force Oman (RAFO) near Salalah, Oman


Deputy RAFO Base Commander visit at RMN SUPER LYNX MK 100

All required facilities were given by RAFO and the problems were solved within 2 days. To complete the procedure, a flight test was conducted in Oman air space and followed by a compass swing to make sure the helicopter is fully serviceable and all errors are minimised. Upon completion of the maintenance and servicing, the RAFO has given the best hospitality by organising a trip for the air crew to visit few interesting places and historical mausoleums around Salalah. After 4 days of stay at RAFO, the aircraft finally flew back to join MV BUNGA MAS LIMA and continue its task in the Gulf of Aden.


Site seeing trip organised by RAFO

 Fuel Transfer


  Fuels drum transfer by load lifting

In some unforeseen circumstances, the fuel supply for Super Lynx is insufficient onboard MV BUNGA MAS LIMA. MISC has put in their best effort to provide the Super Lynx with enough fuel for air operation by sending them in drums via other MISC ship. This fuel drums can only be transferred using the Super Lynx by load lifting technique.


Deck Landing on Merchant Ships


Op Fajar 5 also provides the best opportunity for the Super Lynx pilot to practise deck landing on the MISC ship which has helipad or designated landing area. Crude oil tankers normally have this facility and PASKAL transfer is made easier only by several deck landings. Not many pilots have this opportunity to perform a deck landing onboard merchant ships and Op Fajar 5 is the first for the Super Lynx itself. The landing and takeoff procedure is also differs from the normal landing onboard most navy ships. Cross deck landing is the method for this type of ship.


Onboard MT VIENNA – Crude Oil Tanker



 In case of conflict situation or any task regarding anti piracy where attack is imminent, Super Lynx is also equipped with M3M machine gun for self defence and it can also be deployed as a sniper at any time. A sniper will be carried in the cabin and will provide cover for the assaulted team. Fortunately, there are no threats throughout the operation and the Super Lynx is not yet tested under this circumstances but the crew is always ready.



 Squadron 501 has involved with this operation since OP FAJAR 1 and the summaries are as follows:


2 Sep 2008 – 20 Oct 2008



7 Sep 2008 – 16 Dec2008



10 May 2009 – 23 Jun 2009



23 Jun 2009 – 10 Feb 2010


The Op Fajar 5 was made better with the credibility of Super Lynx to operate in high sea state and the ability to perform its operation with the wind speed reaching 50 knots. Ship escorting was satisfactorily conducted without failure to send the PASKAL team onboard. A boat was used to ferry the PASKAL during calm sea and Super Lynx will do the job during rough sea condition.

As a final result, the operation has benefited the aviators and technicians in terms of experiences and a test to operate the helicopter in its ultimate challenges. To this extent, the success of air operations for the Super Lynx onboard MV BUNGA MAS LIMA could be measured with 100 deck landings, 150 winching operations, 10 Spie Rigs, 15 Load Lifting and 34 flying sorties for the second detachment. The Super Lynx detachment onboard MV BUNGA MAS LIMA is also the longest duration of RMN Super Lynx to operate at open sea which clocked 7 solid months.


Group photo with the crew of Op Fajar 5 after Aidiladha prayers.