Offshore helicopter safety - Transport Committee Contents

4  Regulation

39. Aviation regulation within the UK is evolving from a national model under the CAA to a pan-European model under EASA. In the areas for which EASA is responsible, such as aircraft certification, continued airworthiness and aircrew regulation, the CAA serves as EASA's local office to implement regulations. In areas for which EASA is not responsible, the CAA serves as the primary regulator. From 28 October 2014, Commission Regulation (EU) 965/2012 will apply to the UK. That regulation will supersede national regulations on safety requirements during offshore helicopter operations. The CAA stated that that change will implement a standardised regulatory framework for all Member States removing any differences in application of the rules.[57]


40. Transferring responsibility for aviation to a European level has advantages as helicopter operators become more multinational. The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) told us that there is an incentive for operators to base themselves in countries where the regulatory authorities cannot effectively police them. BALPA proposed harmonising Europe-wide rules to reduce that risk.[58] However, BALPA and others pointed out that one possible disadvantage to that approach is that it might lead to the "averaging down" of standards in the UK.[59] Trevor Woods, Approvals and Standardisation Director at EASA, disputed that argument and referred to the stringency of the operations rules that will be implemented in October 2014.[60] The Aviation Minister, Robert Goodwill MP, told us that he had discussed that matter with the CAA and that he was satisfied that UK safety standards have not been diluted because of EASA.[61]

41. We share the concerns expressed by the trade unions and by Oil & Gas UK that transferring power to a European level has undermined the CAA's ability to be a strong regulator for the UK sector. BALPA and Oil & Gas UK observed that the CAA has the local expertise effectively to regulate the North Sea sector. As more responsibility is transferred to the European level, the CAA may become a mere "regional policeman"[62] while EASA designs broad rules for different sizes of helicopter fleets and without a fixed focus on the North Sea's particular hazards.[63]

42. We note that the offshore industry has little appetite for transferring more responsibility for helicopter operations to a European level. As EASA accumulates more power over helicopter operations, the Government must uphold and entrench the CAA's ability to act quickly and unilaterally.

43. EASA has been criticised for being insufficiently responsive to safety recommendations from the AAIB. Step Change in Safety described EASA as "distant".[64] Keith Conradi of the AAIB agreed that EASA had been slow to respond to recommendations but pointed out that Patrick Ky, EASA's new Executive Director, had stated that there will be "more action, more swiftly"[65]. That assurance is, as yet, unproven. EASA told us that it would respond to the CAA's actions and recommendations on offshore helicopter safety in "exactly the same way as any recommendation addressed to the Agency by an official accident investigation board" and that it would do so by early April.[66] It is disappointing that that official response has not yet been placed in the public domain. [67]

44. Regulatory inertia results in unnecessary risk for the offshore work force. At the moment, it is difficult to discern whether EASA is prioritising CAA recommendations. We note the Agency's assurance that it will swiftly implement recommendations from national aviation authorities and investigation boards. In future, EASA must respond quickly and transparently to the CAA and the AAIB. The DfT must push EASA to improve its response and implementation times. We recommend that the DfT issues a formal response to the CAA review that addresses all 14 points relating to EASA. In addition, the DfT must ascertain what practical steps EASA is taking to speed up the implementation of recommendations derived from national aviation authorities and investigation boards.

Additional industry requirements

45. As well as CAA and EASA regulations, operators are subject to additional rules defined by their customers. Operators told us that considered in isolation those extra customer requirements do not erode safety.[68] However, the cumulative effect is an increase in complexity and therefore in risk for pilots. We heard that an operator with 10 clients might operate flights to 10 different standards.[69] The CAA found that "Pilot experience levels, different passenger loads and different weather minima for airborne radar approaches are examples of where there are differences between customer requirements".[70]

46. We are disappointed that the CAA did not want to take the lead on standardising customer requirements. Instead, the CAA recommended that operators "identify a set of 'best practice' standard procedures and engage with their customers to agree how these may be incorporated into contractual requirements".[71] The CAA told us that while standardisation would be examined by the Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group, operators should "lead on this because, at the end of the day, they are responsible for letting the contracts."[72] However Mike Imlach, Director, Bristow Helicopters, said that customer requirements are significantly more standardised in Norway, in part due to the grip displayed by the Norwegian CAA.[73]

47. It is unclear how much influence operators have in standardising the numerous rules demanded of them by their customers. BALPA believed that the financial clout of the oil and gas companies gave them the whip hand over operators in contract negotiations.[74] Oil and gas companies have begun work on standardisation but the limited progress to date suggests that operators are not best placed to achieve reform.[75] Operators told us that the CAA should be responsible for that task. [76]

  1. The CAA must use its chairmanship of the Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group to lead the standardisation of customer requirements for helicopter operators. This is as an opportunity for the CAA to demonstrate its ability and willingness to stand up and lead industry in reducing risk during helicopter operations.

57   CAA, Safety review of offshore public transport helicopter operations in support of the exploitation of oil and gas (February 2014), para 2.15 Back

58   Q37 Back

59   Q80 Back

60   Q111 Back

61   Q143 Back

62   Q37 Back

63   ibid Back

64   Step Change in Safety (HCS0009) para 5.4 Back

65   Q119 Back

66   EASA (HCS0029) page 2 Back

67   As at 30 June 2014 Back

68   Bond , Bristow, CHC (HCS0001) para 3.4 Back

69   Bond, Bristow, CHC (HCS0001) para 3.3  Back

70   CAA, Safety review of offshore public transport helicopter operations in support of the exploitation of oil and gas (February 2014), para 13.3 Back

71   CAA, Safety review of offshore public transport helicopter operations in support of the exploitation of oil and gas (February 2014), R10 Back

72   Q121 Back

73   Q42 Back

74   BALPA (HCS0012) para 5.2 Back

75   Oil & Gas UK (HCS0028) page 1 Back

76   Bond, Bristow, CHC (HCS0001) para 3.4 Back

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Prepared 8 July 2014