Helicopters Resume North Sea Oil Rig Flights

LONDON (Dow Jones), Apr. 20, 2010

Helicopter flights to offshore oil platforms in the U.K. and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea resumed Tuesday afternoon, although the situation could change rapidly, airport and helicopter operators said Tuesday.

U.K.-based helicopter services Bond Offshore Helicopters, CHC and Bristow Helicopters, which shuttle workers between the mainland and offshore oil and gas platforms, had all resumed flights to most parts of the central and northern U.K. North Sea by Tuesday afternoon, according to company spokespeople. Flights to the southernmost part of the North Sea remain grounded.

Airspace over Norwegian offshore oil platforms reopened Tuesday afternoon and will remain open until at least 1800 GMT Tuesday, with forecasts indicating an extension to 0000 GMT Wednesday will be granted, said Norwegian airports operator Avinor.

"There will continue to be restrictions on the type of traffic permitted to operate in the portions of the airspace that are now open, with air ambulance flights given priority," Avinor said.

"The airspace over the Northern North Sea is currently clear of contamination allowing certain flights to depart," said Bristow in a statement. "A resumption of operations is also expected from Scatsta, Shetland, during the evening," although all operations remain subject to "flight-by-flight approval" from the National Air Traffic Service, Bristow said.

A spokesman for CHC said it resumed flights to the Central North Sea at 1230 GMT, completing 20 crew rotations. Flights to the southern part of the North Sea, which depart from Humberside in England, remain suspended because most English airspace is still closed, he added.

A spokeswoman for Bond said the carrier resumed flights Tuesday morning.

Scotland's Aberdeen airport, which is the main hub for flights to North Sea oil platforms, said in a statement on its Web site that its airspace will remain open until at least 0000 GMT Wednesday. "We are continuing to monitor the situation and will advise on tomorrow's flight programme as soon as we have more information," it said.

Ash from a volcano in Iceland has drifted over much of northern Europe resulting in the grounding of aircraft whose engines are easily damaged by the particles. Conditions began to improve late Monday, but a fresh cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland's erupting volcano is heading for the country with the potential to further disrupt air travel, the European Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said.

Industry body Oil and Gas U.K. said Monday that the grounding of flights has affected many planned crew changes on offshore platforms and a number of companies have scaled back nonessential activities or were using boats to transport personnel.

A spokesman for BP PLC (BP), which operates several offshore platforms in the U.K., said its oil and gas production hasn't been affected by the grounding of helicopters.

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