Sikorsky announced on 6 May that its S-92 helicopter has received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to fly automated approaches to offshore oil rigs, which the company claims reduces cockpit workload by 60%.
"Our new rig approach feature takes the guesswork out of the equation when a pilot is flying out to an oil platform," says Dan Hunter, Sikorsky's commercial programmes director. "It provides a 'hands off' approach that increases the safety of the aircraft tremendously."
Sikorsky says it conducted the bulk of the automated rig approach certification flight tests in 2011. Subsequently in 2012, the company worked with the FAA to provide a path for certification.
"Automated rig approach had never been done before so the FAA had no basis on which to compare it," says Ron Doeppner, Sikorsky's project pilot. "We couldn't go to the FAA regulators and say we're certifying this according to existing data. We're writing the book on it, working with the operator and the FAA."
FAA officials flew in February for the certification review, Sikorsky says.