Westminster declines helicopter safety inquiry

Super Pumas have been involved in four serious incidents in recent years. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Super Pumas have been involved in four serious incidents in recent years. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THE UK Government has come under fire after rejecting a call for an independent study into North Sea helicopter safety.

Louise Ellman MP, chairwoman of the transport select committee at Westminster, wrote to ministers last month asking them to order research into safety improvements in the sector.

Her call followed publication of the committee’s report into a series of helicopter crashes in the North Sea over recent years.

The report called for a full public inquiry into the safety of offshore workers, with the probe to look into whether lives had been put at risk by commercial pressures.

The government rejected the central recommendation for an inquiry in October.

Now Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill has also dismissed the call for independent research into safety.

He wrote to Ms Ellman this week to say that he wanted to allow time for new tighter rules from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to be implemented.

He said: “We will need to give sufficient time for these new measures to come into effect before we can monitor their overall impact on the safety performance of offshore helicopters.”

He added that the UK had a “well respected” reporting scheme which provides valuable data that would be looked at by the new Offshore Operations Safety Forum.

The new rules brought in by the CAA in February include banning helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions and requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment.

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Ms Ellman said in October she was “deeply disappointed” at the decision.

She said: “I am deeply disappointed that ministers have rejected our recommendation they should hold an independent inquiry to investigate offshore helicopter safety.

“This is a regrettable decision for the loved ones and relatives of people killed in offshore helicopter accidents. It sends the wrong signal to people who continue to work in the offshore industry.”

Jake Molloy, regional organiser for the RMT trade union in Aberdeen, said: “Our position remains unchanged.

“We maintain that a full public inquiry is required to look at helicopter safety and helicopter operations generally.

“Not because we believe there are commercial pressures, but to defuse the perception that there are commercial pressures.

“The workforce, especially right now, are looking at a quite serious situation around cost-cutting across the North Sea and the workforce perception is that cost-cutting, if applied to helicopter safety, could impact operations.

“A public inquiry would put this issue to bed.”

There had been four serious incidents involving Super Pumas - including the 2009 crash which killed 16 - in four years.

In May this year a report found that the North Sea helicopter crash that killed the men might have been avoided.

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle held a six-week inquiry after 14 oil workers and two crew died when a Bond Super Puma plunged into the water off the Aberdeenshire coast on April 1, 2009.

It found that Bond had failed to perform a task from the aircraft maintenance manual just days before on March 25 -- after a metal particle was discovered on the helicopter’s epicyclic chip detector.

SEE ALSO

Super Puma helicopter fault strands oil workers

Shetland helicopter crash: Super Pumas grounded

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