Helicopter safety: how come Norway gets it right?

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

I have studied helicopter accident and incident listings for North Sea oil support helicopter ops  – from 1990 to 2013 inclusive – and over those 24 years Norway comes out better than the UK by enough of a margin to make you wonder why.

The data comes from our Ascend database, and I have been selective, which has its dangers. I have included all fatal accidents and also non-fatal incidents that resulted in damage, but excluded minor ground incidents that could have happened to anyone, and lightning strikes that marked the helicopter but didn’t bring it down.

When divided into UK and Norwegian sectors, the results for the 1990-2013 period look like this:


Fatal accidents = 5;  non-fatal accidents/incidents resulting in damage = 13


Fatal accidents = 3; non-fatal accidents/ incidents resulting in damage = 6

The differences are more dramatic if you take the figures since 1997, which Norway sees as a North Sea safety watershed after it lost a Eurocopter AS331 and crew offshore in that year, and it set up its “Committee for Helicopter Safety on the Norwegian Continental Shelf”, which drew up the “Norwegian Oil and Gas Guidelines” within two years. This committee contains the representatives of every stakeholder in the North Sea oil business, from the workers through the operators to the oil giants themselves. The head of the Norwegian CAA’s Helicopter Safety Section Geir Hamre says it made a big difference, and it’s still very active.

Here are the figures:

UK from January 1998 onward: 3 fatal, 10 non-fatal

Norway from January 1998 onward: Zero fatal, 2 non-fatal.

Now that IS a difference. But why?

The UK also set up its own Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) in 1997. The two CAAs meet twice a year and learn from each other. They should be getting much the same results.

Is this a matter of luck? Maybe, but we ought to try and understand it. Both the UK and the Norwegian CAA concede that some of the accidents, like the forced non-fatal EC225 ditchings in 2012, could equally have occurred in the Norwegian sector because they resulted from a manufacturing imperfection, not operational or maintenance error.

Meanwhile the HSSG has said: “Following the meeting yesterday [the decision to end the temporary grounding of Super Puma types in the wake of the Sumburgh accident],  the Helicopter Safety Steering Group will request that Oil & Gas UK set up an independent review of helicopter transportation. Terms of reference will be developed in partnership with all stakeholders, including the trade unions.”





4 Responses to Helicopter safety: how come Norway gets it right?

  1. John S. 30 August, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    What are the sortie rates of Norway vs. the U.K.?

  2. andy pease 31 August, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    Not you as well!The general public are irrational about air safety & risk in general,it dosn’t help when the press trys to work an angle without a proper study of the facts.Why not just scrap the helicopter thats flown the most & had the most accidents?Then we could introduce a brand new one that hasn’t had any accidents yet!

    • andrasz 31 August, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

      These figures are meaningless without knowing the number of flight hours, sectors, average sector lengths and other potentially correlated data that underlie the accident numbers.

      Eg. this week end there were 18 deaths on paved roads in the UK, 11 in Sudan. This means that Sudan is much safer place to drive on the roads. Wait a minute, Sudan has 28 only kilometres of paved roads and one car per every 10000…

  3. HPRA 1 September, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    The following is a link to a 180+ page report from SINTEF in Norway with some interesting observations touching on this topic. Page 67 contains a table comparing traffic on the Norwegian and UK sectors which is what you are asking for. Acccording to the report the traffic volume (in Million person flight hours) in the Norwegian sector grew from being about half of the UK sector in the period 90-98 to slightly more than the Uk sector in the period 99-09.
    But there are also some interesting observations on which of the accidents in the UK sectors in 99-09 that could also have happened in the Norwegian sector.


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