Flights that use AS332-L/L1, AS332-L2 and EC225 Super Puma helicopters to take passengers to and from UK offshore oil and gas installations are to resume following a recommendation made by the UK's Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) late Thursday to lift a temporary suspension.
Super Puma helicopter flights in the UK were grounded Saturday after a CHC Helicopter-operated AS332-L2 Super Puma crashed into the North Sea as it was approaching the Shetland Islands on August 23. The accident killed four offshore oil and gas workers.
CHC Helicopter, which suspended all its Super Puma flights worldwide following the crash, resumed flights of non-AS332-L2 Super Pumas outside of the UK Monday. On Thursday it returned the AS332-L2 to service outside of the UK, but all its Super Pumas operating within the UK will not carry passengers until further notice.
The HSSG – which comprises duty holders, helicopter operators, trade unions and regulators – said its decision to recommend lifting the temporary suspension of the models was based upon confidence in the helicopters being expressed by the European Aviation Safety Agency, the Civil Aviation Authority, pilots' union BALPA, the Norwegian CAA and the helicopter operators themselves.
Step Change in Safety, which runs the HSSG, said the group supports the return to active service of all variants of the Super Puma fleet. It stated that the fleet of L and L1 Super Pumas should return to service immediately, while the EC225 (which returned to service three weeks ago after problems with its main vertical gear shaft) should proceed along its original return-to-service plan.
However, Step Change in Safety Team Leader Les Linklater said that the HSSG was sensitive to the need to re-introduce the Super Puma L2 variant involved in last Friday's crash only for non-passenger revenue operations only. Pointing out that a sympathetic approach will be taken towards any offshore worker who does not fly, particularly in the L2 variant, Linklater told Rigzone in a telephone call Friday:
"There are no reasons for any of these aircraft not to fly, but we understand the sensitivities around the L2 and therefore we're going to be very measured, very calm in how that aircraft comes back. And so this is about leadership, about safety being at the core of the decision and fundamentally it's about saying: 'We understand where you are as an offshore worker and we are going to be sensitive to that.'"
Industry body Oil & Gas UK said it welcomed the HSSG's decision in a statement Thursday, with Chief Executive Malcolm Webb saying:
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