North Sea rotorcraft operators have been handed a three-month reprieve by the UK Civil Aviation Authority from the introduction of tough new regulations that will see helicopter passenger capacity slashed by around 20%.
In February this year the CAA mandated that from 1 June passengers could only be transported in window seats on overwater flights unless category A rebreathers were available or the aircraft was fitted with side floats. The mandate was part of a broader investigation into North Sea helicopter safety.
However, operators were quick to point out the ruling would mean large cuts in available capacity. For example, a normally 19-seat helicopter like the Sikorsky S-92 would only carry around 12 people, while the reduction in occupancy for a medium-class helicopter is even more striking, with passenger numbers halved from 12 to six.
The CAA has now postponed the deadline for implementation of the new rules until 1 September. It says the delay is due to pressure from the oil and gas industry, which claimed the mandate would have an adverse effect on “safety critical” summer maintenance work, and that the improved breathing units would only be available from mid-July at the earliest.
However, the CAA will make the new rebreathers compulsory from 1 January 2015, rather than the previous date of 1 April 2016.
CHC Helicopter, one of the three Aberdeen-based North Sea operators, says: “We support the CAA’s efforts to improve further the safety of offshore operations for our passengers and crew.
“We will ensure that CHC remains fully compliant with the new safety enhancements and continues to meet the helicopter service needs of our many North Sea customers.”