Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Review of North Sea heli ops “too little too late.”

October 2, 2013  By The Telegraph

Oct. 2, 2013, Shetland, Scotland - The Civil Aviation Authority announced that it would conduct a wide-ranging inquiry following an incident last month in which four people died when a Super Puma aircraft crashed off Shetland.

The CAA said the review would be undertaken jointly with the Norwegian CAA
and the European Aviation Safety Agency, and would be advised by a panel of

It will study current operations, previous incidents and experience in other
countries before making recommendations aimed at improving the current
safety record.

The CAA said: "Although there has been considerable effort by regulators,
operators and the offshore industry to minimise the risk of North Sea
helicopter operations there have been five accidents in the past four years,
two of which tragically resulted in fatalities."

However, Balpa, the pilots’ association, said nothing in the announcement
gave it confidence that the CAA could “get below the surface of the


A spokesman added: “We believe a review needs to look at the totality of the
commercial cut throat business that is the North Sea, and not just the
helicopter operation. In short, just how high in the pecking order does
safety really sit for an incentivised contract manager?"

The association added that it was not credible for the Government’s
regulator to “review itself”, and repeated its call for an independent
review along the lines of the post-Piper Alpha inquiry led by the judge Lord

The CAA review will be led by Capt Bob Jones, head of the authority’s flight
operations, who will work with Geir Hamre, head of helicopter safety for the
Norwegian CAA.

It will look at issues including “helicopter airworthiness”, pilot training,
the protection of passengers and crew and decision making by operators.

It will also include a comparison with operations in Norway, where,
according to union leaders, the safety record is better.

Mark Swan, director of the CAA's safety and airspace regulation group, said
the recent accidents had understandably given rise to concerns among
offshore workers.

Flights by Super Puma aircraft were suspended for a week after the latest
crash, but all models have since resumed flying.

The helicopter that crashed last month was a Super Puma AS332 L2, the same
model that crashed in April 2009 following a catastrophic gearbox failure,
killing all 16 men on board.

The three other incidents in the past four-and-a-half years have involved
EC225 models landing in the water.

An interim report into the latest accident said that no evidence of a
technical failure had been identified and the investigation was continuing.

Bob Crow, general secretary of transport union RMT, welcomed the
investigation but said it should not be a substitute for a full public

Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the Unite union, said a “forensic
analysis” of offshore safety was needed.

He added: “If it is serious about learning from the Norwegian model of
offshore health and safety, the CAA would do well to support our earlier
calls for the UK to replicate the widespread legislative changes made by the
Norwegians to make their industry safer in 2000.

“However, it’s getting more and more difficult to take the industry
seriously over its approach to safety reform. Already Super Puma L2 types
are starting to return to commercial service in the North Sea and they do so
without any changes to capacity, configuration or changes to life-saving
contingency plans.”


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