North Sea helicopter safety faces wide-ranging review

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North Sea offshore operators could face fundamental changes - including reducing the number of passengers carried in each aircraft - depending on the outcome of a root-and-branch review of helicopter transportation safety.

Launched in the wake of the 23 August fatal accident of a CHC Scotia-operated Eurocopter AS332L2, the study has been commissioned by pan-industry body the Helicopter Safety Steering Group.

Although it is still framing the terms of reference for the inquiry and considering who should chair it, the HSSG promises that it will act on any recommendations produced.

"Ignoring them is not an acceptable outcome for any of us, that's just not how we do things around here," says Les Linklater, team lead at Step Change in Safety, the organisation behind the HSSG. "If there are things we can do to make helicopter operations safer then we have to do them."

 credit - dominic perry/flightglobal

 Dominic Perry/Flightglobal

Linklater says the report, which will take around six months to complete, will have to look beyond any issues around airworthiness and also examine other areas of concern, such as the relative safety records of the UK and Norway, plus the internal configuration of all the offshore transportation helicopters.

Both the EC225 and the rival Sikorsky S-92 can accommodate 19 passengers, but concerns have been raised - notably via social media - that the cabin of the Eurocopter type is too cramped to comfortably seat that many people.

"The sense from [passengers] is that they feel there are too many people in the back. But it's something that we are not going to consider via Facebook, but through one-on-one interviews," says Linklater.

Eurocopter says it will participate in the study as part of its efforts to mend relations with the offshore workforce.

 credit - chc helicopter

 CHC Helicopter

Dominique Maudet, executive vice-president global business and services at Eurocopter, says: "You can't avoid the emotion, but at some point you have to look at the facts and figures.

"We will look at whatever modifications we can make in the short and medium term to better address passenger comfort, especially compared with other aircraft."

HSSG includes representatives from offshore workforce trade unions, as well as the three Aberdeen operators. However, Linklater hopes to broaden this to include regular participation from the three main helicopter manufacturers: AgustaWestland, Eurocopter and Sikorsky.