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

Response from Malcolm Webb, Chief Executive, Oil & Gas UK

I write ahead of the Government's formal response to the Transport Select Committee's report on Offshore Helicopter Safety published on 30th June, to advise that Oil & Gas UK does not support the conclusions of your Committee's report, including your call for a Public Inquiry. Our reasons can be summarised as follows:

1. The Committee has taken a report of a single, 3-word quote taken out of context to substantiate a wholly unfounded finding that there is a "macho bullying culture" in the industry. The fact that the quote was made is hugely regrettable but it is in no way reflective of the industry position regarding safety. A better and more representative example of the industry's attitude to safety and aviation safety in particular, would have been to note that when concerns about the gear shafts arose following a EC225 aircraft ditching in May 2012 the industry, helicopter and oil company operators plus contractors and trade unions acting together, took the unprecedented step to call a "time out for safety" and voluntarily grounded all the relevant aircraft at considerable cost and operational disruption whilst checks were undertaken. The industry similarly took a "time out for safety" following the AS332 L2 helicopter crash in August 2013, voluntarily grounding the aircraft until AAIB had confirmed the cause of the crash was not mechanical. Furthermore on bringing the aircraft back into service the industry expressly acknowledged and respected the right of any individual not wishing to fly not to be required to do so. Many other examples of the industry's care, concern and positive actions regarding safety were available to your Committee had it chosen to enquire. Damning a whole industry on one isolated, unrepresentative incident is both unfair and unworthy of your Committee and certainly no grounds to call for a public inquiry.

2. Similarly the Committee's acceptance of wholly unsubstantiated allegations of commercial pressure being brought to bear on helicopter operators to relax their safety standards is an alarmingly weak evidence base from which to attempt to justify a plea for such an inquiry. Oil & Gas UK has repeatedly requested anyone having any such evidence to come forward, either in person or anonymously, but none has ever been forthcoming. The simple truth is that no such pressure has been applied and if it were sought to be applied then none of the helicopter operators operating in this country would succumb to it. Not only are their professional standards of operation far too high for there to be any risk of that but equally nobody would be so foolish to do so in view of the ethical, regulatory and commercial damage which would inevitably result from such wholly irresponsible behaviour.

3. Finally at a time when the CAA is in the process of implementing the 61 actions and recommendations contained in its report of 20 February 2014 which, as far as we are aware, has been broadly accepted by all of the engaged stakeholders as a strong and useful contribution to UK helicopter safety on the UKCS, we find it alarming that your committee should suggest that the CAA and the industry as a whole should now be distracted from that work and be subjected to a Public Inquiry seemingly intended to question the CAA's very competence as an aviation regulator. In our opinion not a shred of evidence has been presented to your Committee to justify such an inquiry into the CAA's competence. Furthermore, we firmly believe that what is most important now, in terms of the safety of UKCS helicopter transport and hence that of the men and women working on the UKCS, is that the CAA should now be given the time and space to properly complete its work to implement its report in collaboration with the Industry and Unions through the Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group. In our opinion the CAA should get on with and not be distracted from that work with a Public Inquiry of the type your Committee envisages.

I am copying this to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport for his information.

31 July 2014

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