‘Judicial inquiry into helicopter safety needed’

A full judicial inquiry into North Sea helicopter safety should be carried out, a committee of MPs have been told.

Leaders from Unite and the pilots’ union BALPA have called for the full investigation.

They have been giving evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee in Aberdeen as part of its probe into offshore helicopter safety.

Chairman of BALPA’s helicopter affairs committee, Colin Milne, said the independent inquiry was needed to properly examine the role and power of the oil companies who charter services from the helicopter companies.

It should also examine the effectiveness of the regulation of the industry, he said.

In a statement the association’s general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said: “In the last seven years there have been six accidents in the North Sea – that’s six too many.

“A thorough independent judicial inquiry is needed to understand what’s going wrong in the UK, especially compared with the situation in Norway where there appears to be a better safety record.

“The hundreds of pilots flying the North Sea offshore day-in, day-out want everything put under the microscope and examined objectively, including whether ‘light-touch’ regulation is right for this safety-critical industry which is so vital to the UK’s prosperity.”

John Taylor, of Unite, told MPs offshore workers do not speak out about safety concerns over offshore helicopters because they fear doing so may cost them their jobs.

“The helicopters keep falling out of the sky and crashing in the UK sector,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is that the offshore workforce wish to find out why that is happening.

“There is a problem in the UK sector. We’ve only touched on part of it. Some of the concerns of the offshore workforce are about the safety equipment; are about getting out of helicopters that we need to discuss. This is not ‘everything’s rosy in the garden’.”

But Mr Taylor’s claims were dismissed by director of Bristow Helicopters Mike Imlach.

“I can honestly say we’ve never been under commercial pressure where we have felt it’s unsafe to continue a flight,” he told the committee.

“If I don’t have the full parameters of safety of crews and aircraft we will not fly, irrespective of the commercial pressure we may receive from a client.”

The investigation follows the fatal helicopter crash off Sumburgh in August, which killed four offshore workers and sparked a major emergency exercise. Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness, Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, and George Allison, 57, from Winchester, died when their Super Puma helicopter went down on approach to Sumburgh Airport on 23rd August.

Robert Patterson, from Oil and Gas UK, said the tragedy had deeply affected offshore workers.

“This hit the industry very hard. We have to take time to rebuild confidence, and we’ve been through a process of engaging with the workforce through a variety of forums.”

The tragedy came as the fifth serious offshore North Sea accident in just four years.

The inquiry continues.


Add Your Comment
  • Robbie Tulloch

    • January 28th, 2014 18:54

    I totally agree with Unite and the pilots,that nothing short of a full investigation will be required to get to the bottom off these recent tragedies.
    A full open and transparent investigation is also needed to restore some work force confidence back into the whole of helicopter operations which has taken some severe knocks over the last few years.


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