Eurocopter Super Puma: a truly difficult issue

Second Bond accident wreckage.jpg

The question of what to do about the Super Puma following the recent fatal loss of the Bond Helicopters machine is an incredibly hard one to answer. And it reverberates through the whole world of helicopter operations.

I’m treading on eggshells here, and some people will no doubt object to my even discussing this, but there are really deep issues afoot. For starters, just what are the common factors in this year’s remarkable trio of offshore accidents.Is the operation of two of the machines by Bond relevant? (One wascertainly crew-related, though with other factors being very important,and one may or may not be maintenance-related.) How alike are theoriginal AS332 L1/L2 and later EC225 designs in key aspects?

Is the basic design of helicopters in question – since single-pointfailures on the products of two totally separate design teams have nowresulted in immediate catastrophe?

Is there now a serious question over the efficacy of the HUMS (healthand usage monitoring system) that everyone believes is so crucial? Dowe need to work harder at getting the HUMS data into the cockpit inrealtime? Is that realistic?

And what do the regulators do now? Can we keep on operating the L2Super Puma in the circumstances when nobody properly understands thefailure mechanism? I certainly don’t know the answer to that last oneand I don’t envy the people trying to decide.

Anyway, here’s what you need to help make up your own mind. The AAIB initial report is here. A story on the reaction from the unions- entirely understandable in my view – is here. And then there’s theextremely interesting string discussing all this on the excellentPprune rotorheads forum. The title says it all: main gear-boxes and the grand lottery.It’s very striking to me to hear the diverse views being expressedthere and also something approaching almost fatalism about the hazardsof these operations.

Imagine if the same sentiments were expressed by airline pilots.

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