Tuesday, June 5, 2012

HELICOPTER SAFETY IN THE NORTH SEA


The question of helicopter safety and the record of various models of helicopters used to service the offshore is playing out in the North Sea.

Five countries share the North Sea oil play. There are more than fifty oil fields in operation and exploration is ongoing. Like the Newfoundland Offshore, weather conditions have made drilling and extraction of oil hazardous. Oil companies have to be innovative. They push the edges of technology to ensure safety and efficiency.

In this environment, the transportation of personal to and from the drill rigs and oil producing platforms is a major logistical challenge. As with our offshore, the most efficient mode of transport the volumes of people involved is the helicopter. 

Helicopters, like all other technology in the offshore, have been modified and enhanced to meet the weather conditions and distances the challenging environment offers. The alternative is shipping crews by ship.

The issue of helicopter safety is always foremost in the minds of operators, industry regulators and most importantly the people who depend on them to get to and from work.

Late last week Shell signaled that they are not going to renew a contract with Bond Offshore Helicopters because “it was not able to achieve sufficient assurance about Bond's operations.”
Bond recently temporarily suspended helicopter flights after one of its Super Pumas ditched in the North Sea. Air accident investigators have found a cracked shaft in the main gearbox of the Bond EC 225 Super Puma helicopter.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said last week that a cracked shaft in the gearbox of the EC 225  was found near a manufacturing weld.

The report said: "The crew of the helicopter carried out a controlled ditching following indications of a failure of the main gearbox (MGB) lubrication system and, subsequently, a warning indicating failure of the emergency lubrication system."

So, not only did the MGB fail but the back-up lubrication system failed as well. So much for a run dry or run dry equivalent!

This was the third serious incident involving a Super Puma helicopter in the North Sea in just over three years.  In February 2009, a Super Puma EC225,  ditched in fog a short distance from a BP oil platform 125 miles (200km) east of Aberdeen. In April 2009, a Puma suffered a catastrophic gearbox failure and crashed off killing all 16 people on board. Recently air ambulances operated by Bond and manufactured by Eurocopter, were grounded.

Journalists, regulatory agencies, operators and the public should be watching how the offshore helicopter issue plays out in the North Sea.

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