THE first Super Puma EC225 helicopter to fly over the North Sea since the entire fleet was grounded last October took to the skies over Aberdeen heliport yesterday.
The CHC-operated aircraft was chartered by oil firm Total and was carrying senior managers, but no oil workers.
The chopper departed on schedule for the North Alwyn platform at 10am where Total executives were planning to brief offshore workers about the phased reintroduction of regular crew-change flights involving the EC225.
But the two other major North Sea helicopter companies announced yesterday they had no immediate plans to resume flights involving EC225s. One, Bristow Helicopters, said it was unlikely any of its Super Pumas would resume commercial flights before October.
The fleet was grounded for safety reasons on 22 October last year after a Super Puma EC225 operated by CHC was forced to ditch off Shetland. Another had ditched 30 miles off Aberdeen in May last year.
Both ditchings led to the discovery of “potentially catastrophic” mechanical failures in the gearbox – identical cracks near a weld in the aircraft’s main vertical gear shaft.
Last month, the way was cleared by European and British aviation authorities for vital crew-change flights for Britain’s oil and gas industry to resume after safety measures to prevent the threat of further ditchings devised by French manufacturer Eurocopter, were approved.
A spokeswoman for CHC said the EC225 had returned to “full commercial service” after months of testing, modifying, and collaboration involving Eurocopter, helicopter operators, oil companies, the regulators and groups representing pilots, offshore workers and others.
She said: “The flight included CHC pilot Will Hanekom, who is meeting with offshore workers to answer any questions about the process for the EC225s’ safe return to service.”
She added: “Today’s flights will be followed by more over the coming days and weeks.”
A spokeswoman for Bristow said: “Bristow is in the process of making the required modifications to our EC225 fleet in the UK, Norway and Australia. We intend to return the aircraft to service once this is complete.”
A spokesman for Bond, the third major North Sea helicopter operator, said no decision had yet been taken.
Jake Molloy, offshore organiser of the RMT union, said: “If the workforce confidence is raised and they feel able to board the Super Pumas then they will, but... there is still anxiety about whether these aircraft are safe.”
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