File photo of a Eurocopter AS332. Photo credit: CHC Helicopters
By Brenda Goh
LONDON, Sept 24 (Reuters) – Britain’s aviation regulator on Tuesday launched a review into offshore helicopter operations in the North Sea, a month after four oil workers were killed when their helicopter crashed into the sea off Scotland’s Shetland islands.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the review would study current operations, previous incidents and offshore helicopter flying in other countries, and will make recommendations aimed at improving the safety of offshore flying.
The review will be run jointly with the Norwegian CAA and the European Safety Agency, and will also be advised by a panel of independent experts.
“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 review we are announcing today will thoroughly examine the risks and hazards of operating in the North Sea and how these can be managed most effectively,” he said.
Four oil rig contractors were killed on Aug. 23 when a Super Puma L2, made by EADS’s unit Eurocopter, crashed into the sea off Shetland’s rocky southern coast. The helicopter was carrying 16 passengers and two crew members.
The crash was the fifth incident in four years in the area involving different Super Puma models, including a fatal crash of an L2 in April 2009 in which 16 people were killed.
A British air safety investigation team said earlier this month that it had found no evidence of technical failure in the latest accident but labour unions said the report did not ease offshore workers’ fears about the Super Puma fleet.
Industry body Oil & Gas UK said it welcomed the review and would consider identifying and addressing helicopter operational issues not covered by the CAA safety review.
Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the Unite union, said that the CAA’s review needed to “provide substance” and called for the UK to replicate the legislative changes made by Norway in 2000 to make their industry safer.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to take the industry seriously over its approach to safety reform,” he said.
“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 – this is unacceptable.”
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