Helicopter review recommendations

February 21, 2014

Industry body Oil & Gas UK has welcomed a review of offshore transportation in North Sea, including measures to increase safety.

The review, carried out by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), was commissioned in the wake of a string of helicopter incidents in the North Sea in recent years. Most recently, the UK North Sea’s Super Puma fleet was grounded after an AS332 L2 model of the aircraft, carrying 16 offshore workers, crashed close to the Shetland Islands, on 23 August 2013, killing four.

Measures recommended by the review include stopping helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions, only allowing passengers if they are able to sit next to an emergency window seat, and provision of better emergency breathing equipment.

It also recommends helicopter operators make a number of changes to aircraft, including fitting handles next to emergency windows, fitting automatic floats, and improvements to life rafts and life jackets. 

The CAA will establish and chair a new safety forum that will actively promote delivery of the recommendations and publicly report on progress. The safety review was carried out with support from the Norwegian CAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). 

CAA chairman Dame Deirdre Hutton said: “The safety of those who rely on offshore helicopter flights is our absolute priority. The steps we are announcing will result in significant improvements in safety for those flying to and from offshore sites in the UK and potentially worldwide. 

“We expect helicopter operators, the oil and gas industry and EASA to move forward with recommendations to them as soon as possible. For our part, the CAA is already taking forward actions directly under our control. We will monitor and report regularly on progress, so that people can have confidence that these important changes are being implemented as quickly as possible.” 

In detail, the measures include:

  • Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions, so that the chance of a ditched helicopter capsizing is reduced and a rescue can be safely undertaken
  • Pending further safety improvements to helicopters, passengers will only be able to fly if they are seated next to an emergency window exit to make it easier to get out of a helicopter in an emergency (unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices or passengers are provided with better emergency breathing systems)
  • Requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment to increase underwater survival time unless the helicopter is equipped with side floats
  • The CAA said there will be changes to the way pilots are trained and checked. The CAA will also take responsibility for approving offshore helidecks, to ensure they meet strict safety standards. 

A number of recommendations will be made to EASA, as the regulator for helicopter certification and airworthiness. These include enhancing the safety of helicopters; establishing a review of offshore helicopter accidents and incidents with national aviation organizations, such as the CAA, to highlight safety issues and develop remedies; and, the development of standardized helicopter operating information for pilots.

The CAA also said it is expecting helicopter operators to make improvements to helicopters and survival equipment including:

  • Fitting side floats
  • Implementing automatic flotation equipment
  • Adding hand holds next to push out windows
  • Improvements to life rafts and lifejackets

The Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) will be expected to improve survival training for offshore workers.

Oil & Gas UK’s health, safety & employment issues director Robert Paterson welcomed the review. 

He said: “This comprehensive analysis of North Sea helicopter operations and safety performance proposes a series of actions and makes a number of important recommendations for the industry, and the focus is now on managing the changes arising from the report in a considered and systematic way. We applaud the involvement of the Norwegian aviation authority together with an independent peer group in the review process and note the CAA review found no significant differences between UK and Norway operations. We have a constructive working relationship with the CAA and we will continue to work closely with the CAA and the Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) to ensure the recommendations made in today’s report are acted on as appropriate.”

The CAA worked with trade unions representing industry workers and pilots, the oil and gas industry, helicopter operators, manufacturers, government, regulatory bodies, and other experts in the field, as well as analyzing available data and reports, as part of its review.

The full review is available on the CAA website here: http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP%201145%20Offshore%20helicopter%20review%20and%20annexes%20final.pdf

Facts: 

  • Between 1976 and 2013, the UK has experienced 73 offshore helicopter accidents of which 13 included fatalities.
  • There were a total of 25 UK offshore helicopter accidents between 1992 and 2013, equating to 1.35 accidents per 100,000 flying hours; seven involved fatalities.
  • Across Europe, 11 member states use 230 helicopters of 10 different types, from three manufacturers, for offshore operations. Of these, Norway and the UK operate nearly 70% of the total fleet and 95% of helicopters with more than 18 passenger seats (S-92, EC225 and AS332).
  • There are currently 228 helideck-equipped fixed installations and about 50-100 mobile helidecks in the UKCS.
  • The industry core workforce (those spending 100+ nights per year offshore) in 2012 was 25,760. In 2012, 86,000 flight hours were recorded and over a million passengers carried. The majority of these passengers would be those flying regularly as part of their shift pattern.
  • Three UK helicopter companies operate approximately 95 aircraft in support of the exploitation of oil and gas around the UK: Bristow Helicopters Ltd; Bond Offshore Helicopters Ltd; and CHC Scotia Ltd. The main operating bases are: Aberdeen; Sumburgh; Scatsta; Norwich; North Denes; Humberside; and Blackpool.
  • There are about 100 helideck-equipped fixed installations and approximately 20-40 mobile helidecks on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). As a measure of related helicopter activity, in 2012, about 57,000 flight hours were flown and about 850,000 passengers carried.
  • Four Norwegian helicopter companies operate approximately 55 aircraft in support of the exploitation of oil and gas on the NCS: Bristow Norway; CHC Helikopter Service; Blueway; and Norsk Helikopterservice. Main operating bases are: Stavanger, Bergen, Brønnøysund, Hammerfest, and Kristiansund.


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