Unite union raises offshore helicopter return date fears

Ditched helicopter A Super Puma helicopter ditched off Shetland in October last year

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A union has expressed safety fears over the return to service of the type of helicopter involved in two ditchings in the North Sea last year.

Super Puma EC 225s were grounded following the incidents off Aberdeen and Shetland.

Manufacturer Eurocopter has said it is confident they could return to service by the middle of July.

However, the Unite union described that target date as "ambitious at best" on safety grounds.

In the May incident last year, all 14 people on board a Super Puma were rescued when their helicopter came down about 30 miles off the coast of Aberdeen during a flight to an oil rig.

Then in the October ditching, all 19 people on board were rescued safely after the Super Puma put down in the sea off Shetland.

Eurocopter said earlier in the week: "Eurocopter considers that the EC 225 technical problems are now fully understood.

"Based on those findings, Eurocopter has proposed a set of safety measures.

"Eurocopter is confident that, once validated by the airworthiness authorities, the EC 225 can return to full service by the end of June/mid of July."

'Due process'

Unite regional industrial officer John Taylor said on Wednesday: "While Eurocopter may be satisfied with the outcomes of their internal investigations into the gearbox failure, their expectations of a return to service in June/July is ambitious at best.

"Throughout 2012 we said that our offshore workers cannot keep relying on luck and the skill of pilots to avoid disaster - the tragic loss of 16 lives in April 2009 when the returning flight from the BP Miller platform ditched is a permanent reminder of this.

"We have visited Eurocopter's global HQ in France and while the company have demonstrated their efforts to resolve the gearbox problem on the Super Puma EC 225-type, a lengthy due process must be completed before the air-worthiness of this helicopter is proven."

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