No backsliding on helicopter safety, says union

A Super Puma helicopter crashed into the sea off Shetland in August. Picture: AFP/Getty
A Super Puma helicopter crashed into the sea off Shetland in August. Picture: AFP/Getty
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THE pilots’ union Balpa has warned the Civil Aviation Authority that it must not allow any “backsliding” by the oil and gas industry on new safety improvements and regulations for helicopters flying offshore.

The union yesterday hit back at claims by industry body Oil and Gas UK that the changes risked damaging rather than enhancing safety.

New rules are being brought in as a response to a review of helicopter safety following the death of four people when a Super Puma crashed into the sea off Shetland in August.

Due to be introduced in June, they will see a restriction on the number of people allowed to fly, a ban on helicopters flying offshore during severe weather and a requirement that all passengers should have a seat next to an emergency exit.

Oil and Gas UK has said that the regulations could damage safety and have a negative impact on North Sea maintenance and productivity, as the additional flights the changes would lead to would stretch existing pilot and ground crews.

The organisation has also said that the June deadline would jeopardise critical safety checks and maintenance.

But in a letter to the CAA, Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan urged the authority to stick to its timetable and ensure the recommendations are fully implemented.

Mr McAuslan said: “We have written to the chief executive of the CAA, Andrew Haines, urging him to ensure the CAA review board’s recommendations contained in its recent review are fully implemented and to ask him to challenge backsliding by the oil and gas industry. We have also written to Scotland’s first minister pressing him not to be held hostage by the large multinational companies that have a history of setting the agenda.”

A spokesman for the CAA said yesterday that it would not be deterred by Oil and Gas UK’s concerns and would hold them to the existing timetable.

“Our view is that our review was focused solely on safety for all those who travel off-shore, it was very focused on making sure we can make those operations safe as possible,” he said.

“We think that the measures we have recommended in the report are realistic, they are achievable, and we do think that they will make an improvement to safety. So we don’t see any reason that they should be changed, but if Oil and Gas want to come forward with some evidence and say why they would be adverse for safety, then of course we would look at that, but as yet we haven’t seen that.”

Mr McAuslan is due to speak at the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Dundee today, where delegates will vote on a motion on helicopter safety brought by the Unite union.

Unite recently claimed that the industry was facing a “growing safety crisis”, with five North Sea helicopter crashes and 20 
fatalities since 2009.

Around 26,000 people work for more than 100 nights a year offshore in the UK.

An inquiry into the deaths of 16 men in a North Sea helicopter crash concluded last month that the accident could have been prevented. All on board died when the Bond Super Puma came down in 2009.

Gearbox failure was blamed in the report on the crash.