UK regulator to review North Sea helicopter safety


UK regulator to review North Sea helicopter safety


LONDON -- The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said it will undertake a review of North Sea helicopter operations to offshore oil and gas rigs following five accidents in the past four years, including most recently a fatal crash in August.

Last month's crash in the UK sector of the North Sea, of a Eurocopter Super Puma AS332 L2 helicopter, resulted in the deaths of four of the 18 people on board the flight and revved up a broader debate about transportation hazards faced by workers traveling to and from offshore oil and gas installations.

It was the second fatal crash in the North Sea in the past four years.

The British Airline Pilots' Association said the CAA-led review was "too little, too late" adding that it was "not credible" to expect the regulator to review itself following a series of accidents.

"The CAA has not shown itself adept at getting below the surface of industry, the real life experience of pilots and understanding the human factors that drive safety. Nothing in today's announcement gives us confidence that this has changed," said the UK pilots' association.

The CAA's review comes as European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co. N.V. unit Eurocopter said earlier Tuesday that 75% of its global fleet of EC225 Super Puma helicopters have returned to service, following the lifting in July of an almost ten-month ban of the chopper from flying over water.

Dominique Maudet, Eurocopter's executive vice president for global business services, told reporters that he expected a full return to service of the EC225 model "in the coming months."

The UK and other regulators banned the EC225 from flying over water after two of the aircraft ditched in the North Sea last year because of gearbox problems. No one was injured in those flights.

Eurocopter's Super Puma rotorcraft, which includes several different models, are a vital aircraft for the oil and gas industry as companies ramp up exploration and development efforts at offshore locations around the world.

"The recent accidents have understandably given rise to concerns, particularly with offshore workers who rely so heavily on these helicopter flights," said Mark Swan, Director of the CAA's Safety and Airspace Regulation Group.

The CAA said its review will examine the risks and hazards of operating in the North Sea and how these can be managed most effectively. It will looks at areas including pilot training and helicopter airworthiness. It will also include a comparison of U.K. operations with Norway.

The CAA will work with the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency on the review and will be advised by a panel of independent experts. The findings will be published early next year.

Dow Jones Newswires

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