Two Super Puma helicopters carrying oil workers have sparked emergency alerts after warning lights illuminated in mid-flight – two months after an emergency ditching by the same type of aircraft in the North Sea.
• Union chiefs express fears for safety after latest scares.
• One chopper had to be escorted back to Aberdeen
Offshore union leaders have called for more transparency within the helicopter industry following the latest scares.
A Bond-owned Super Puma was returning from Borgholm Dolphin on Wednesday morning when the aircrew observed an oil pressure warning light. It is understood the pilot dropped 1000ft as a precaution.
The Eurocopter-manufactured helicopter, which had 16 passengers and two crew on board at the time, was escorted back to Aberdeen by a CHC-owned helicopter and was met by emergency ground crew.
Later that afternoon, a CHC Super Puma heading to the Elgin Field with 17 people on board made a “non-emergency return to base” after a warning light came on in the cockpit, a spokeswoman confirmed.
A spokesman for Bond confirmed that the incident had occurred after a warning light came on mid-flight.
He said: “Bond Offshore Helicopters can confirm that one of its AS332L2 aircraft, registration G-REDK, landed safely at Aberdeen earlier yesterday with all passengers and crew disembarking normally.
“In line with standard procedure, emergency services were in attendance at Aberdeen airport as a precautionary measure, following notification that the crew had observed a standby pump warning light whilst en route.
“Engineers will examine the aircraft fully before it returns to service.”
A spokesman for CHC Helicopter said: “An AS332L2 flight, travelling to the Elgin field, made a non-emergency return to base after an indicator light came on in the cockpit. The aircraft landed safely at Aberdeen heliport just after 3pm, and will be inspected by CHC engineers. There were 17 people on board.”
RMT offshore organiser Jake Molloy called for better communications regarding the safety of the helicopter.
He said: “I’m putting this to the Helicopter Safety Steering Group. What this highlights is that the communication process is not working. We should not be hearing this second-hand from concerned parties.
“I am unhappy with people boarding these things without knowing what is going on. Our members are just being told that they have ‘gone tech’. There should be openness and transparency.”
In October a problem in an aircraft’s gearbox caused a CHC-owned helicopter to ditch in the sea while carrying an oil crew from Aberdeen to a rig 86 miles north-west of Shetland. The 17 passengers and two crew were rescued and managed to escape injury.
In November, offshore workers faced disruption after the Super Puma EC225 helicopter fleet was grounded pending an investigation into recent failures.
All 16 EC225s operating in the North Sea – one-fifth of the entire fleet – were grounded following the accidents.
The Government’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) has previously recommended that the European Aviation Safety Agency orders Eurocopter to review the design of the main gearbox emergency lubrication system on the EC225 Super Puma “to ensure that the system will provide the crew with an accurate indication of its status when activated.”
A report by the AAIB found that a problem with the main gearbox lubrication system caused the pilots to take action. The ditching was the fourth serious helicopter incident in three years.
In May, all 14 passengers and crew members on a Super Puma helicopter were rescued after it ditched about 30 miles (48km) off the coast of Aberdeen. It was on a scheduled flight from Aberdeen Airport to a platform in the North Sea.
On April 1, 2009, 16 people died when a Super Puma plunged into the sea off the Aberdeenshire coast. The gearbox of the Bond-operated helicopter failed while returning from the BP Miller platform.
The tragedy happened about six weeks after another Bond Super Puma with 18 people on board ditched in the North Sea as it approached a production platform owned by BP. Everyone survived the incident.