THE Government’s Civil Aviation Authority today backed the controversial decision to resume flights of Super Pumas over the North Sea and said there was no evidence to suggest the Sumburgh Head disaster had been caused by “an airworthiness or technical problem.”
The British aviation regularity authority described the decision of the oil industry’s helicopter safety group to allow Super Pumas to take to the skies again as “appropriate.”
And a spokesman revealed: “Based on all the information currently available, we do not believe that the accident was caused by an airworthiness or technical problem, and consider that the decision by the operators to resume Super Puma flights is appropriate. We would not allow a return to service unless we were satisfied that it was safe to do so. We will review the position if any new evidence comes to light.”
He continued: “As the UK’s aviation safety regulator, protecting the public is our fundamental purpose. It was right that Super Puma operations were suspended in the immediate aftermath of the accident on 23 August, until further information was available.
“Since the accident, our experts have been in close touch with the Air Accident Investigation Branch, the helicopter operators, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the Norwegian regulator, and others.
“We will continue to provide the Air Accident Investigation Branch with any assistance required as their investigation into the cause and circumstances of the accident continues.”
Meanwhile two of the three main helicopter operators servicing Britain’s oil and gas industry today confirmed they had still to set a date for resuming crew change flights on the three versions of Super Pumas which have been cleared for commercial flights - the Super Pumas L, L1 and EC225 models.
The L2 version of the helicopter - the Super Puma marque involved in last Friday’s crash in which four oilworkers were killed - is being restricted to flights which do not involve passengers being carried on board.
But The Scotsman understands there are only five or six Super Puma L or L1s available for crew change flights in the entire British sector of the North Sea.
A spokeswoman for CHC Helicopters - the operators of the Super Puma involved in the Sumburgh Head disaster - said the only crew change flights the company was operating today were being carried out by Agusta Westland and Sikorsky S92 helicopters.
She said: “We have two EC225 flights but they are both training flights so there are no passengers involved.”
The spokeswoman continued: “CHC has still to decide when we will have our first crew change flights involving Super Pumas. The decision of the Helicopter Safety Steering Group just happened last night and we are not going to immediately turn round and start flying. There is a lot of flight planning and scheduling which has to be done before you can start putting aircraft up.”
A spokesman for Bond Helicopters also confirmed there would be no crew change flights today involving Super Pumas. Bond does not operate ant of the L or L1 versions of the aircraft which have been cleared for norm,al commercial crew by the HSSG.
Crew change flights
Bond has also still to set a date for resuming crew change flights involving the EC225s, the later model of the aircraft which earlier this month was cleared to resume North Sea flights after being grounded since last October following two non-fatal ditchings in the North Sea.
A Bond spokesman said: “”Bond’s EC225 helicopters will continue to proceed along their scheduled return to service programme.”
He continued: “In recognition of the sensitivities following the tragic accident to another operator’s helicopter on 23 August, Bond will initially reintroduce its fleet of crew change AS332L2s for non-passenger operations - maintenance, positioning and training flights. We will work with our customers to return to full revenue service as soon as is appropriate, and will support and assist them to improve passenger confidence.”
He added: “Bond’s Search and Rescue AS332L2s, which have continued to fly life at risk missions during this period, will resume full service with immediate effect.”
Bristow Helicopters are understood to have four or five L or L1 models of the Super Puma. The company has still to release a statement, detailing their crew change flight plans.
A spokeswoman for Bristow Helicopters said: “Bristow Helicopters endorses the HSSG’s decision to support the return to service all variants of the Super Puma in the North Sea.
“Bristow has continued with non-passenger operations including maintenance and training flights with our AS332 Ls. “In recognition of the obvious sensitivities, Bristow will work in close collaboration with our clients to help build workforce confidence as we return to full service. Bristow’s EC225 helicopters will continue with their scheduled return to service programme as planned.”
She added: “Flight safety remains Bristow’s priority.”
The Bristow spokeswoman confirmed there had been no crew change flights involving Super Pumas today.