Newly certificated personal locator beacons for passengers on North Sea helicopters are being introduced, says Oil and Gas UK.

Privately owned beacons had previously been banned for technical reasons, with location aids restricted to electronic locator transmitters carried by the crew and pre-stowed in emergency rafts.

An interim Air Accidents Investigation Board report revealed in 2009 that non-certificated "wristwatch" personal locator beacons routinely carried by oil workers caused the higher-powered, more-capable electronic locator transmitters carried by pilots and fitted on dinghies to shut down.

This was caused by a "smart" system in the transmitters designed to select a "master" beacon when they are in close proximity, and to suppress the signal from the others to avoid confusing homing devices and save battery power.

The result of this was that, following an accident, only the weaker personal locator beacons signals were transmitted and no voice communications were available.

The Aberdeen hub is the first to be equipped, followed by the southern North Sea and the Shetland base at Scatsa. These personal beacons are of the Civil Aviation Authority-approved Sea Marshall AU9-HT type, but on Liverpool Bay operations the Rhotheta RT-B77 will be deployed as soon as it is available. Both will be lifejacket-mounted, and passengers will receive a briefing before a flight about how to operate them.

Oil and Gas UK says that all passengers on oil support operations in the North Sea will soon be equipped with personal locator beacons during their flights.

Source: Flight International