North Sea helicopter firms in safety review pledge

THE North Sea’s three major helicopter operators today announced a groundbreaking joint review of the sector’s safety practices in the wake of the Sumburgh Head Super Puma disaster which claimed the lives of four oil workers.

Three North Sea helicopter firms have pledged a joint review of safety practices. Picture: Getty

The Bristow Group, CHC Helicopters, and the Avincis Group which owns Bond Helicopters, underlined their commitment to sharing best practice and to “consistently operate at the highest possible level of safety” in the combined drive for improvements.

A spokeswoman for the three operating companies said: “The three companies leading this effort will reach out to other helicopter operators to encourage them to join the review group. The joint review of safety-related processes, procedures, training and equipment will identify best practices on the ground and in the air, combining the operators’ collective experience.

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“Experts in safety, training and flight operations from the three companies will participate in the review initially, with subsequent involvement to include their maintenance personnel and other key industry professionals.”

She explained: “The group first will focus on European operational procedures, but will explore and adopt best practice from the global industry and scale its review accordingly. The review will include automation, training, manufacturing excellence, human factors, safety communication, emergency training and emergency response planning

“It’s anticipated the review will be conducted under the auspices of European Helicopter Operators Committee (EHOC). Plans for collaboration by the operators will complement a just-announced review of North Sea helicopter operations by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) - in partnership with the Norway CAA and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) - and will be done in cooperation with the International Oil and Gas Producers Association.”

The spokeswoman added: “Findings from investigations by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch and others into past incidents will also be incorporated into the group’s work.”

James Drummond, the chief executive of Avincis said: “This initiative has our full support. There is no doubt in my mind that the combined efforts of the operators will further enhance safety for everyone in the industry.”

Bill Chiles, the Bristow Group President, claimed: “By sharing best practices, we can effectively enhance safety for our clients and our crews. This initiative will combine the expertise and talents within our industry and will complement and fully support the work being done by HSSG and broader industry forums to identify best-in-class technologies, processes, procedures and training to meet the objectives of achieving better safety performance.”

Bill Amelio, the CHC President, said the joint initiative would deepen the commitment of the three industry leaders to collaborate on safety. He continued: “There are and will continue to be plenty of bases for healthy competition between our companies, but safety must never be one of them. Everyone benefits when the people who rely on us for their livelihoods are able to return home safely, and it remains our obligation to do everything humanly possible to fulfil that expectation.”

Meanwhile the offshore union RMT today stepped up its demand for safety concerns to be urgently addressed and for a full public inquiry to be held into the fatal Super Puma crash in advance of tomorrow’s Holyrood debate on helicopter safety.

Bob Crow, the RMT’s General Secretary, said: “This week’s debate in the Scottish Parliament gives us the opportunity to raise the core points that RMT believes must be addressed to change the safety culture in Britain’s offshore energy industry. The comparisons with Norway are stark and in our view are directly related to the fact that the Norwegian trade unions have the right of access to every part of their fields.

“There are still so many outstanding issues from previous tragedies and the failures of the current Fatal Accident Inquiry process and RMT is backing the families of those who have lost their lives in the fight for justice.”

He added: “RMT is also demanding an investigation in to North Sea safety which extends beyond just the use of helicopters but which covers every aspect of the offshore working environment. Twenty-five years after Piper Alpha the industry owes its workforce nothing less than that.”

Richard Baker, the North east Labour MSP who will head tomorrow’s debate at Holyrood, will urge Ministers to back legislation to speed up the process of Fatal Accident Inquiries.

He said: “Last week the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland indicated he did not want to see a delay in the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the most recent helicopter tragedy, but while this statement is welcome Ministers have not yet come forward with legislation which would ensure there is not a repeat of the situation where the FAI into the 2009 Super Puma crash has still not taken place.

“I am pleased to have secured this debate to press Ministers to support Patricia Ferguson’s proposed Bill which would speed up the FAI process and ensure the recommendations of the inquiries are legally enforceable. I believe this would help ensure all necessary actions are taken after these incidents and help restore confidence in the workforce in helicopter safety which ahs been so damaged in recent years.”