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BREAKING: Super Pumas Cleared to Fly in UK and Norway

Published in Oil Industry News on Friday, 7 July 2017


Graphic for News Item: BREAKING: Super Pumas Cleared to Fly in UK and Norway

Restrictions on the H225LP and AS332L2 Super Puma helicopters are to be lifted today following an announcement by the UK and Norwegian CAA.

The UK CAA said that flights are not expected to resume immediately, but the airframe will be permitted to fly after a series of checks, modifications and inspections are undertaken. 

It will then be left up to operators and their customers to decide whether they wish to re-introduce the helicopters to North Sea service. In order to resume operation of the aircraft, individual operators will need to supply safety cases to ensure that they have all the necessary measures (procedures, processes, tooling and training) in place for a return to service.

Both the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway have remained in close contact with the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA); UK and Norwegian operators; and with the manufacturer, Airbus Helicopters which has developed the modifications and enhanced safety measures for the type. Despite the helicopter being released back in to service by EASA in October 2016, the restrictions remain in place in the UK and Norway until these further enhancements have been made.

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Oil and Gas People previously conducted a survey of the offshore workforces attitude to the Super Puma in January 2017 which found that two thirds of offshore workers stated they would refuse to fly on-board the Super Puma, should it be returned to service.

The offshore workforce have shown widespread disdain for the Super Puma airframe in recent years, as the airframe has seen three fatal North Sea accidents cost 33 lives since 2009, with several other incidents where aircraft made controlled ditchings requiring workers to be rescued from the North Sea.

The series of accidents culminated in a complete grounding of the airframe after the main rotor blades detached from an EC 225 variant during a flight over Turoy, Norway in April 2016.

Explaining the decision to lift the restrictions on the aircraft, John McColl, Head of Airworthiness at the UK CAA, said: “This is not a decision we have taken lightly. It has only been made after receiving extensive information from the Norwegian accident investigators and being satisfied with the subsequent changes introduced by Airbus Helicopters through detailed assessment and analysis.

“The safety of those who travel on offshore helicopter flights is a key priority for both the UK and Norwegian aviation authorities. We would not have made this decision unless we were convinced that the changes to the helicopters and their maintenance restore the required airworthiness standards.

“We continue to work with the helicopter operators, the offshore industries, international regulators, unions and pilot representatives to enhance offshore safety standards still further and all these parties are actively involved in ongoing discussions.

Offshore workers are expected to actively oppose any re-introduction of the aircraft to service. Oil and Gas People have discussed a potential return with many offshore workers, with one worker who wished to stay anonymous saying: 

"Although the restriction has been lifted, it is hoped that the decision makers in Aberdeen take into account the thoughts of an already angry workforce and listen to the reservations we have about flying in the Super Pumas and understand our lack of confidence in the Air frame. We are not willing to lose any more friends or colleagues or put our lives at increased risk by flying in these helicopters"

CHC Helicopters were able to return all Super Puma aircraft during Chapter 11 re-structuring last year and currently own no Super Puma aircraft.

A spokesperson for Babcock Helicopters said: "Any decisions regarding aircraft type are taken in close consultation with our customers."

Bristows helicopters have the most Super Pumas of any Aberdeen Operator and gave the following statement: 

"On July 7, 2017,  the UK and Norwegian Civil Aviation Authorities announced their intention to remove restrictions on the Airbus EC225 providing a route for the aircraft to return to service. The safety directives issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority prohibiting commercial operation of the EC225 aircraft remain in effect.

"We are currently reviewing the required changes and technical modifications needed to the aircraft for the safe return to service, and are working closely with Airbus and the regulatory authorities on the development and testing of these changes. We will continue to suspend all operation of our EC225s, including for SAR and training, until we are confident that the aircraft can operate safely.

"Bristow is monitoring the situation closely, with the safety of our passengers and crews remaining our highest priority."

Airbus Helicopters gave the following statement:

"Airbus Helicopters expresses its deep regret for the tragedy which claimed the lives of 13 people in Norway in 2016.

"Airbus Helicopters welcomes the lifting of the H225 and AS332 L2 flight ban by the UK & Norwegian national aviation authorities

"The H225 safety case is based on a design change using a more reliable bearing to address fatigue failure; improved spalling detection through a new Full Flow Magnetic Plug and strengthened inspection criteria; increased reliability through reduced service life of key components; and improved, protective packaging for the transportation of parts.

"This is the result of learnings from the investigation and the need to raise the bar in safety across industry to ensure that the strictest safety requirements are met."





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