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Families of Cougar victims say Ottawa failing to act on safety

Nov. 19, 2013, St. John's - Families who lost loved ones in a helicopter crash off Newfoundland in 2009 say Ottawa is failing to act on key safety recommendations for the offshore oil sector.


November 19, 2013
By The Canadian Press

Topics

Transport Canada is
proposing new regulations that would ground offshore choppers in weather
or sea states that would make ditching in water unsafe. The department
would also require that all crew members wear immersion suits and that
all passengers have underwater breathing devices.

Those regulations make
mandatory changes that have already been made in Newfoundland’s
offshore industry since the crash of Cougar Flight 491 killed 17 of 18
people on board the helicopter in March 2009.

But Lori Chynn, whose
husband John Pelley died in the disaster, said she’s frustrated that
Ottawa hasn’t acted to ensure choppers can run without gearbox oil for
at least 30 minutes.

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A 30-minute run dry
time was a key recommendation in the Transportation Safety Board’s 2011
report into the crash. It also called on the Federal Aviation
Administration, the United States regulator, to assess whether choppers
criss-crossing the rough seas off Newfoundland and in the Arctic should
be able to run dry even longer.

The board blamed the crash in part on a catastrophic loss of oil from the main gearbox.

In
an emailed response Monday to a request for comment, Transport Minister
Lisa Raitt’s office said her department is working with U.S. and
European aviation regulators “regarding helicopter main gearbox design
requirements.”

A Federal Aviation
Administration memo in April 2011, posted on the Transportation Safety
Board’s website, said a rule change for gearboxes would be proposed for
future aircraft. But requiring new gearboxes on helicopters already in
use would be costly for the industry, it said.

The
inquiry’s four-volume report in 2010 stressed the need for more
“proactive and vigorous” regulation as companies seek oil farther from
shore. Inquiry head Robert Wells also noted that a shift in 2009 to
goal-based offshore regulation requires a powerful and independent
safety watchdog.

Premier
Kathy Dunderdale reiterated Monday in the legislature her government’s
support for a separate safety agency. She said despite repeated attempts
to raise the issue with the federal government, which jointly manages
the offshore with the province, Ottawa has not agreed.

Federal Natural
Resources Minister Joe Oliver has said in the past that making such a
change would be adding another layer of bureaucracy. A request for
comment from his office Monday was not immediately answered.


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