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Will Helicopter Cutbacks Jeopardise Passenger Safety?

Published in Oil Industry News on Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Graphic for News Item: Will Helicopter Cutbacks Jeopardise Passenger Safety?

Oil and Gas People broke the story last month that one of the North Sea’s major helicopter operators had allegedly engaged in an unprecedented move in-order-to reduce the terms and conditions of its pilots.

Historically the terms and conditions offered by North Sea helicopter operators had brought some of the most capable and experienced pilots in the world to our region, but Oil and Gas People wonder, what are the likely effects of squeezing already fatigued/stressed crews to work harder and for less pay?

In October 2016 Oil and Gas People reported on the near ditching of a CHC operated Sikorsky S92 helicopter which had been experiencing (false) indications of an un-suppressible engine fire in the vicinity of the Petrojarll Banff. Under the most extreme of pressures and over a hostile environment, it was thanks to the quick thinking of an experienced and well-seasoned flight crew that the need to ditch (at night) was averted and a safe return to Aberdeen was made possible.

Then again in December 2016 we reported on another CHC aircraft, which experienced a tail rotor failure over the West Franklin platform, with catastrophe once again only being avoided due to the skill of the highly experienced ex-military aircrew.

No doubt the passengers on both flights would attest that the average starting salaries of £45k (co-pilot) and £85k (captain) are well worth every penny.

And yet despite the writing being on the wall, certain offshore operators feel the need to bolster profit margins at the risk of haemorrhaging their best crew who will most likely move into other sectors, only to be replaced by cheaper or less experienced crews.

And what about those pilots who do remain behind and are forced into working under more stress than ever before?

Aviation statistics show that 80% of air accidents are caused by human error, with a significant percentage (15-20) of these attributed to fatigue amongst flight crews. In-fact a recent survey by the British Airline Pilot’s Association (BALPA) further supports this by concluding that 40% of pilots felt that their abilities had been compromised by fatigue in the past month alone, with many pilots reporting symptoms from dizziness to feeling ‘groggy’, light headed and confused during flights.

With helicopter crews being required to safely deliver offshore workers to helidecks (often moving) at night and in poor weather this hardly seems like a combination, which is conducive to safety?

Are operators really going further and doing more for offshore workers, or are they merely reaching beyond what is acceptable in the pursuit of healthier balance sheets?

We’d be interested to hear your opinion, so please comment on our Facebook page and have your say!

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