‘Complacency’ fear over helicopter safety

A full inquiry should be held into whether commercial pressure from oil and gas companies impacts on offshore helicopter safety.

MPs on the UK Parliament’s Transport Select Committee have called for the independent investigation to also examine the role of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The committee’s chairwoman fears a “creeping complacency” may be impacting on safety standards.

Its far-reaching report comes after a Super Puma helicopter crashed into the sea off Sumburgh on 23rd August last year, killing four of the 18 people onboard.

The crash, which claimed the life of what is thought to be the first female victim of an offshore tragedy, was the fifth incident to have happened in the North Sea since February 2009. It prompted the CAA to undertake a review into offshore helicopter safety.

Ttransport committee chairwoman Louise Ellman said: “After five incidents since 2009, offshore workers’ confidence in helicopter safety is understandably low.

“Despite work by the CAA, serious questions remain unanswered about offshore helicopter safety in the competitive commercial environment of the North Sea. We fear a creeping complacency may be affecting safety standards.

“The role and effectiveness of the CAA has not been adequately examined. Only a full and independent public inquiry would have the power and authority to investigate properly.”

One of major concerns for MPs is a report by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) into the Sumburgh crash which found a pre-flight safety briefing failed to accurately explain how to use the particular type of Emergency Breathing System (EBS) supplied in the helicopter.

Ms Ellman said it was “appalling” that it took a fatal accident to highlight weaknesses in the safety briefing.

“Survivors of the Sumburgh crash told us that they did not use the emergency breathing system provided on the helicopter because the information given to them by the safety video was flawed.

“It is appalling that it took a fatal accident in such circumstances before inadequacies in safety briefing were identified.

“Workers in the offshore industry have a right to know everything possible is being done to keep them safe. We call for the CAA to ensure that helicopter operators review all safety arrangements to guarantee all are fit for purpose.”

A statement from the CAA highlighted its weighty report released in February, as well as the action group led by the CAA itself.

“Any loss of life in aviation accidents is always tragic and the safety of those who rely on offshore helicopter flights is therefore our absolute priority.

“In February we announced over 70 actions and recommendations to improve safety, primarily aimed at preventing accidents but also to improve survivability following an incident.

“These were widely welcomed by unions, helicopter operators, the oil and gas industry and Norwegian regulators and are bringing significant improvements in safety for those flying offshore in the UK and potentially worldwide.

“The new CAA-led Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group is ensuring operators and industry implement these changes as quickly as possible.

“Made up of the offshore helicopter operators, oil and gas industry and offshore workforce and pilot representatives, it has already overseen the approval of a new significantly enhanced underwater emergency breathing system for offshore workers. This new system will be rolled out across the UK offshore industry this summer and autumn with accompanying training.

“The CAA will ensure that safety improvements to UK offshore helicopter operations continue to be implemented as a priority.”


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