Offshore helicopter safety: Government, CAA and Oil & Gas UK Responses to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2014-15 - Transport Committee Contents

Government Response


The Government welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Transport Select Committee's recommendations on offshore helicopter safety.

We are pleased to note that the Committee has found no evidence that the Super Puma helicopter is any less safe that other helicopters used in the UK offshore sector and that there is also no evidence to suggest that UK operations are any less safe than operations conducted by other states, particularly Norway, who operate under a similar safety regime in the same hostile North Sea environment.

We welcome the Committee's acknowledgement of the wide-ranging and comprehensive review into offshore helicopter safety and strong recommendations on safety governance, airworthiness and equipment. These recommendations will take time to implement and the Government is committed to ensuring that these are addressed and followed through. The UK Safety Strategy Board, which includes representatives from the Department for Transport, Civil Aviation Authority and Air Accidents Investigation Branch will be responsible for tracking AAIB recommendations through to their conclusion.

Air Accident Investigation

Recommendation 2: "AAIB findings have a significant impact on survivors and their families, who deserve to be briefed on upcoming announcements. The AAIB must keep crash survivors informed on the progress of investigations." (Paragraph 19).

The Government and AAIB agrees that clear communications on the progress of an investigation through to its conclusion can have a significant impact on bereaved families and survivors of aircraft accidents.

Article 21 of Regulation (EU) No 996/2010 of the European Parliament and the Council of 20 October 2010, on the investigation and prevention of accidents and incidents in civil aviation, refers to the 'Assistance to the victims of air accidents and their relatives'.

It states that each EU Member State shall establish a civil aviation accident emergency plan at national level and that such a plan shall also cover assistance to the victims of civil aviation accidents and their relatives. Additionally, Member States shall ensure that all airlines, established in their territory, have a plan for the assistance to the victims of civil aviation accidents and their relatives and when an accident occurs, the Member State in charge of the investigation, shall provide for the appointment of a reference person as a point of contact and information for the victims and their relatives.

The AAIB always appoints an Investigator-in-Charge (IiC) for each investigation it undertakes. The IiC is designated as the reference person as the point of contact for victims and their relatives. Additionally, in the case of fatalities, the Police assign 'Family Liaison Officers' (FLOs) to act as a point of contact to provide for liaison between the AAIB IiC and the families concerned. For each major investigation, the AAIB publish a 'Special Bulletin' (Initial Report), normally with 14 days of the accident and, as appropriate, 'Interim Reports' throughout an investigation. An investigation culminates with the publication of a 'Final Report'. Accident survivors and relatives of those fatally injured, are informed prior to publication in each case.

In the most recent North Sea helicopter accident, Inspectors from the AAIB had face-to-face meetings with the majority of the survivors who were given the necessary contact details for up-to-date feedback. They were also advised when the Special Bulletin was to be released. Additionally, in accordance with normal AAIB practice, as the anniversary of the accident approaches, survivors and the bereaved will be given an update on the investigation progress and informed that a presentation of the AAIB's findings will be given at the appropriate time.


Recommendation 7: "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." (Paragraph 42).

The scope of EASA's responsibilities in respect of helicopter operations is unlikely to increase in the foreseeable future. The CAA is already empowered through EU law and the Air Navigation Order to take unilateral action to address urgent safety concerns as demonstrated by the issue of the Operational Directive. There are no proposals to change this.

Recommendation 8: "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 commendations 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." (Paragraph 44).

EASA's legal obligations in respect of responding to recommendations from the AAIB are set out in Article 18 of EU Regulation 996/2010. We expect EASA to comply with those obligations. If EASA determines that rulemaking is an appropriate response to an AAIB recommendation, there is a rulemaking process that has to be followed. Any rulemaking task will have to prioritised within the overall rulemaking programme. The Government will seek to ensure that rulemaking tasks arising from recommendations from national aviation authorities and accident investigators are given appropriate priority.

EASA has formally responded to the CAA regarding the recommendations raised by the CAA review. In addition, it has an ongoing rulemaking task in respect of offshore helicopter safety with Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) being issued in 2013. The publication of Comment Response Document (CRD) for the NPA was delayed to allow any recommendations arising from the CAA review to be considered. The CRD, which was published on 14 August, contains a section explaining if and how these recommendations have been reflected in EASA's rulemaking proposal.

The recommendations made to EASA by the CAA review relate to areas for which EASA is responsible under EU legislation. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Government to formally respond to the CAA in respect of those recommendations even if EASA had not already responded. The CAA continues to discuss these recommendations with EASA and is aware of the progress being made.

Commercial Pressure/Public Inquiry

Paragraph 10: "The CAA Review did not consider the evidence that commercial pressure impacts on helicopter safety in sufficient depth. The Government must convene a full, independent public enquiry on investigate commercial pressures on helicopter safety in the North Sea operating environment. That inquiry must also examine the role and effectiveness of the CAA" (Paragraph 54).

The UK CAA is one of the most respected and highly regarded civil aviation authorities in the world. Authorities from across the globe often turn to the CAA for examples of best practice. The Committee itself has congratulated the CAA on its Offshore Helicopter Review and for quickly establishing a Helicopter Safety Action Group for overseeing and implementing the recommendations of its Review. The Government is committed to overseeing the implementation of the recommendations in the CAA Review.

With regards to commercial pressure, neither the CAA, Industry nor Government has seen any evidence to suggest that safety is being compromised as a result of commercial pressure from the industry. It is true that competition for contracts, particularly where contracts are offered at short notice or awarded at a lower price may impact on the ability of the operator to recruit and train for a new commitment, but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. The Committee's report state that helicopter operators do not support the accusation that commercial pressure from their customers affects the safety of their operations and hotly dispute the suggestion made by BALPA.

It is important for the CAA and industry to be given time to implement the recommendations from the CAA's Offshore Review. In the circumstances the Government does not support the call for a public inquiry on this issue.

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Prepared 27 October 2014