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Step Change in Safety: Suspension of North Sea Helicopters Lifted

Step Change in Safety’s Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG), comprising duty holders and helicopter operators, trade unions and regulators, resumed a meeting today in Aberdeen to review its decision to recommend the temporary suspension of AS332 L/L1, AS332 L2 and EC225 commercial passenger flights to and from offshore oil and gas installations within the UK.

The group recommends the lifting of the temporary suspension of the models. The decision is based on confidence in the helicopters being expressed by European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the pilots’ union BALPA, the Norwegian CAA and the helicopter operators themselves, following five days of reviewing safety management systems and processes.

Les Linklater, Step Change in Safety’s team leader, said: “By taking the time out for safety since the weekend, we have had the opportunity to review key elements of our fleet and better understand the positions of the authorities that determine the airworthiness and operational compliance and safety of our helicopter fleet. The result is that there is no evidence to support a continuation of the temporary suspension of the entire Super Puma fleet.

“As a consequence, the HSSG supports the return to active service of all variants of the Super Puma fleet. In detail, this means that:
? The fleet of L and L1 helicopters shall return immediately to commercial service,
? The EC225, arguably the most examined helicopter in modern history, shall proceed along its original return to service plan,
? However, in recognition of the understandable sensitivities around the immediate return to service of the L2 fleet (the specific type involved in Friday’s incident), this type will be initially re-introduced for non-passenger revenue operations only. This means non-passenger carrying maintenance, positioning and training flights only.

A sympathetic approach will be taken to any worker who, during this period, feels unable to fly.”

Mr Linklater continued: “Our decision is based on the following observations:
• The helicopter operators have reviewed their own safety management systems and processes and are satisfied that there is no reason to believe there is an inherent mechanical problem with any of the AS332 L/L1, AS332 L2 or EC225 helicopter types,
• The European Aviation Safety Agency and Civil Aviation Authority have not issued any Airworthiness Directives or Operational Directives on these airframes, which positively affirms that there are no safety reasons that support a suspension of flying,
• BALPA, the pilots union, has given its full support to the fleet and positively affirmed that they have no safety concerns with regard to the affected airframes,
• The global picture is that these airframes have continued to fly; moreover, the Norwegian CAA has publicly stated that there are no technical reasons that support a suspension of service. In the UK, AS 332 L/L1s, AS 332 L2s and EC225s have continued to fly on non-commercial and search and rescue operations.”

The AAIB has also issued a statement that says the evidence currently available suggests that the helicopter was intact and upright when it entered the water.

Mr Linklater continued: “Four people tragically lost their lives on Friday. However there are almost 16,000 people offshore currently, with over 12,000 in the most affected areas (central and northern North Sea).

“Today, there are over 250 people who have spent more than 21 days offshore, this is increasing daily and they and their families are wondering when they are going to get home.

“We have a duty of care to all offshore workers both in terms of their safety and their well-being; we must consider the cumulative risk of the ‘time out’. We must avoid a further tragedy through the introduction of human factor-based risk such as fatigue, stress and other well-being concerns that increase the likelihood of a high consequence – low frequency event.

“The individual helicopter operating companies will now work with their customers, to ensure the correct information and confidence-building communication is available, sensitive to the individual needs of the offshore workforce, before returning to full commercial passenger service.

This work will include:
• A commitment from all stakeholders – Duty Holders, Contractors, Helicopter Operators, Trade Unions and Regulators (HSE & CAA) to immediately commence a “Boots-on” campaign to engage with the offshore workforce and rebuild the trust and confidence they place in each of us,
• This engagement must take place both on and offshore; and therefore a phased return to flight is critical to achieving this,
• Step Change in Safety, through HSSG, will provide guidance on how this should be undertaken by stakeholders and it will be delivered through direct engagement with all stakeholders,
• Through this process, there is a commitment to better understand the concerns raised with regard to cabin comfort and configuration, and to work together to identify effective options to improve passenger confidence,
• HSSG will request Oil & Gas UK to set up an independent review of helicopter transportation. Terms of reference will be developed in partnership with all stakeholders, including the trade unions.

Ends

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