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UK oil & gas industry body says Super Puma helicopters should be cleared to fly

30 August 2013

Following the suspension of all flights by Super Puma variants after the crash off Shetland last week which killed four oil workers, Step Change in Safety's Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) said on August 29 the fleet should return to operations after a two-day meeting in Aberdeen to review the suspension.

In a statement, the HSSG said; "The 'time out for safety' has been completed and there is no evidence to support a continuation of the temporary suspension of the entire Super Puma fleet. As a consequence, the HSSG supports the return to active service of all variants of the Super Puma fleet."

The main reason given was the increasing risk to oil platform crews in the North Sea if helicopter rotations were not restored to a minimal operational level. The Super Puma represents more than half of the 75 helicopters based in Aberdeen and rotations have been badly affected by the suspension.

Les Linklater of HSSG said: "Four people tragically lost their lives on Friday. However there are almost 16,000 people offshore currently, with over 12,000 in the most affected areas (central and northern North Sea).

"Today, there are over 250 people who have spent more than 21 days offshore, this is increasing daily and they and their families are wondering when they are going to get home.

"We have a duty of care to all offshore workers both in terms of their safety and their well-being; we must consider the cumulative risk of the 'time out'. We must avoid a further tragedy through the introduction of human factor-based risk such as fatigue, stress and other well-being concerns that increase the likelihood of a high consequence - low frequency event."

He added: "The individual helicopter operating companies will now work with their customers, to ensure the correct information and confidence-building communication is available, sensitive to the individual needs of the offshore workforce, before returning to full commercial passenger service."

The L2 model of Super Puma, the type involved in the Shetland crash, will be initially re-introduced for "non-passenger revenue operations only". This means non-passenger carrying maintenance, positioning and training flights.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, told the BBC that he backed the decision to return the Super Pumas to service, although Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: "The continued grounding of the L2 fleet  is the bare minimum that the industry can do until the recovered black box's data fully establishes why this tragedy occurred.

"Confidence has been shattered and the industry needs to provide substantive evidence - not opinion - to its workers demonstrating the airworthiness of the helicopters that are now returning to operations,” Rafferty said.

Following the crash, Unite the Union has urged the Scottish Government to fast-track Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) reforms put before the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson, and for an emergency Scottish parliamentary debate into offshore health and safety.

The combined voice and flight data recorder from the crashed helicopter, known as the "black box", have been revcovered from the sea of Shetland’s Sumburgh Head and it is now being analysed by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) at its Farnborough headquarters.

The AAIB said the Super Puma had appeared to show a reduction in airspeed accompanied by an increased rate of descent, and the helicopter had been intact and upright when it entered the water.

An AAIB update said: "Preliminary information indicates that the approach proceeded normally until approximately three miles from the runway when there was a reduction in airspeed accompanied by an increased rate of descent. The helicopter struck the sea approximately two miles west of the runway threshold. 

Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive, Malcolm Webb, said: “We commend the HSSG’s thorough review of this situation and the agreement which has been reached today. Oil & Gas UK is in complete alignment with this agreement, including the decision to return the aircraft in question to flight in a phased and proper manner and to engage with the management and workforce to rebuild trust and confidence. 

“In that regard, I wish to make it absolutely clear that, as a result of these arrangements, no-one unwilling to fly will be forced to do so.  Oil & Gas UK also notes the request of HSSG to set up an independent review of helicopter operations, with terms of reference to be agreed with stakeholders. This we will do."






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