Ryedale is playing a leading role in the hunt for the Malaysian airliner which disappeared without a trace two months ago.
Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) designed and built by Forum Energy Technologies, previously known as Perry Slingsby Systems, in Kirkbymoorside, are helping with the search for Flight MH370 which experts believe crashed into the ocean off the Western coast of Australia.
“For us working here, it’s an honour to know that our products are being used to help in such a special cause,” said commercial manager Simone Pizzolato. “We are all very proud of where we work – we feel it’s a special place because of the products we design and manufacture for our clients.” At least two ROVs, which can reach depths of between 3,000 and 6,000 metres, depending on their specifications, are scouring the seabed in the hope of discovering wreckage from Flight MH370 after it vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board during its journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Officials leading the hunt said last week that a full search of the suspected crash area could take up to a year.
But they can rely on the machines from the 250-strong team at Ings Lane, thanks to expertise and know-how developed during an illustrious 40-year history of building submersible vehicles.
“We are one of the top manufacturers in the world,” said Mrs Pizzolato. “There are several companies that build these machines but of those we are one of three leaders in the industry.”
“It’s down to our experience – we have been in the market longer than any of our competitors – and due to the expertise of the people we have working here.”
Clients who buy the ROVs mainly use them for oil and gas exploration at sites across the world, but they are also deployed for salvage and survey operations, due to the depths they can reach and the ability of operators to manoeuvre the vehicles from a control room on the surface and beam back real-time images.
“If you are looking for something underwater and can’t send a diver, you would send an ROV,” said Mrs Pizzolato. “When the Malaysian airliner went missing, some of our clients were asked, with our ROVs on board, to search for the black box.
“Our ROVs also helped to find the black box of the Air France flight which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 and were used by our clients during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to help try to stop the spill and to film the work that was being carried out.”
But that is not all – FET also manufactures “Trenchers,” larger, more heavy-duty machines that can dig trenches in the sea bed for companies in the renewable and telecommunications industries that need to bury pipes underground and protect them from any damage caused by the anchors of passing ships, and so on.
Then there are the rescue submarines, several of which have been built and sold to navies across the world, and are used in operations where a submarine becomes stranded and needs help.
It is a far cry from its humble origins which began in 1934 when Frederick Slingsby launched a business building gliders. A year later he had moved to Ings Lane and, by the mid-1970s, the company, now under new ownership, began using its expertise in fibreglass to develop manned submarines which were used in North Sea oil and gas operations.
From there, it recognised the move towards unmanned vehicles, sold its aviation division, and continued to diversify into the subsea tooling applications market.
Today, the Kirkbymoorside base of FET is just one part of a larger family which has offices across the world, each of which has its own area of expertise, such as the manufacture of A-Frames to gently lower ROVs, Trenchers and Rescue Submarines into and out of the water.
When all the different parts come together, clients know they can come with a need and all aspects will be taken care of by the company, which was created in a five-way merger in the summer of 2010, involving the Triton Group, the then owners of Perry Slingsby Systems.
Despite its many achievements, FET remains somewhat of a hidden secret to people in Ryedale and North Yorkshire.
Mrs Pizzolato said: “When a client comes to us, they ask ‘why are we based in North Yorkshire?’ and it is just because of Mr Slingsby and the tradition he created.
“Ryedale can be very proud of what we are doing here. We have seen a big growth on our order book and we are very busy and are having to recruit people because we need more staff.
“Not only are we one of the biggest employers in the area, but locally we also do our best to develop the next generation of talent and give them opportunities to have a successful career.”
“The apprentice programme we have is important to us because we are connected to this area. We put a lot of effort into developing young people that are interested in getting into the industry and it is great because we have some really nice people working with us who started from school.”