Offshore helicopter safety - Transport Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. On 23 August 2013, a Super Puma helicopter crashed into the sea while on approach to Sumburgh Airport on Shetland. Four passengers were killed. That was the fifth accident in four years involving a helicopter carrying oil and gas industry personnel to and from offshore installations in the North Sea.

2. Shortly after the Sumburgh crash, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced a joint review of North Sea helicopter operations with the Norwegian CAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). That review was advised by a panel of independent experts. The review studied current operations, previous accidents and offshore helicopter flying in other countries, and it made recommendations to improve the safety of offshore flying.[1]

3. Because we, too, were concerned about offshore helicopter safety, we launched an inquiry on offshore helicopter safety, but we agreed not to publish our report before the CAA had published its findings. We asked for written submissions on the following questions:

·  How safe are offshore helicopter flights?

·  How does the UK's safety record compare with that of other countries?

·  What steps could be taken by industry to improve the safety of offshore flights?

·  How could legislation and regulations relating to helicopter safety be improved?

·  How effective are existing regulators, including the European Aviation Safety Agency, in ensuring that recommendations to improve safety are implemented?

4. Along with written submissions, we heard oral evidence on 27 January and 17 March. We also met a number of survivors of the Sumburgh crash at an informal private meeting on 10 April, where the survivors told us about their experiences during and after the accident. A summary of this meeting is set out in Appendix A.

5. The evidence session on 27 January was held in Aberdeen, which is the geographical centre of the UK oil and gas industry. In Aberdeen, we visited the North Sea operations centre of Bond Aviation Group, a helicopter operator, where we met staff and were briefed on existing safety practices in the offshore sector. We also visited Airbus Helicopters North Sea Service Centre where we were given a demonstration aboard a pilot training simulator.[2] We thank all those who hosted us on our visit as well as those who provided evidence to the Committee. We also thank our Specialist Adviser, Jeremy Barnett, for his assistance.

6. In this inquiry, we did not seek to identify the causes of specific accidents, although we considered information published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) on the 2013 Sumburgh crash. Instead, we scrutinised the safety culture in the North Sea. To that end, we took evidence on the regulatory and commercial pressures faced by the offshore industry and listened carefully to the offshore work force on how safe they feel and what they believe can be improved. We heard about two broadly separate issues in relation to helicopter accidents: first, the reasons why helicopters crash; and, secondly, factors relating to the survivability of crew and passengers following such incidents.

7. A number of other helicopter accidents took place over land during the course of this inquiry. Those included the police helicopter crash into the Clutha Vaults bar in Glasgow, which killed 10 people, and two accidents in Norfolk, one civilian and one military, each of which led to four fatalities. We did not take evidence on the factors surrounding those accidents, as the onshore operating environment and culture is significantly different from the offshore sector.

1   The CAA published its findings in Safety review of offshore public transport helicopter operations in support of the exploitation of oil and gas, CAP 1145 Back

2   Formally Eurocopter Group Back

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Prepared 8 July 2014