Flights to North Sea Oil Fields Halted Due to Ash

LONDON (Dow Jones), Apr. 22, 2010

Helicopter flights from Aberdeen to oil and gas platforms in the U.K. North Sea have been suspended again due to the danger from the volanic ash cloud drifting over from Iceland, said a spokesman for Bond Offshore Helicopters Thursday.

"There is no flying from Aberdeen at this time," said the spokesman. "A red zone is located just outside Aberdeen and is forecast to move over the city this afternoon."

Helicopters shuttle the majority of workers to and from offshore platforms in the North Sea. Flights were suspended for much of the previous week due to the danger the cloud of volcanic ash poses to aviation. Flights resumed Tuesday afternoon as the cloud cleared, but a return of the ash had grounded helicopters again by Wednesday afternoon, said the spokesman.

Norway has also grounded helicopter flights to its North Sea oil and gas platforms, the air traffic authority said.

The grounding of helicopters has had no effect so far on oil and gas production from the region. The industry is accustomed to dealing with adverse weather conditions such as fog and high wind that can disrupt helicopter transport and has contingency plans in place.

"The industry plans to use vessels to transfer workers to and from its oil and gas installations," industry body Oil and Gas U.K. said in a statement. "Under normal circumstances, only up to 12 persons would be allowed as passengers on a cargo vessel, even if the vessel's capacity itself allows for more. However, in this extremely rare and unusual combination of circumstances, to help allow the timely deployment and relief of offshore staff, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has agreed to grant an exemption to this rule."

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