NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Offshore helicopter safety timescales changed by CAA

An undated handout photograph released by CHC Helicopter on August 24, 2013 shows a Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma L2 variant. " AFP PHOTO / CHC HELICOPTER " Image copyright AFP
Image caption The CAA said its priority was worker safety

The timescales for implementing safety changes for offshore helicopter flights have been changed.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said only allowing passengers to fly if they are seated next to a push-out window exit was being delayed from June until September.

But an improved emergency breathing system will be compulsory from January next year rather than April 2016.

The CAA said it followed consultation with the industry.

Industry representatives have said that the emergency breathing system devices will be available to "the bulk of" the offshore oil and gas workforce by September.

For this reason, they believe the flight restrictions will not come into play as they will be unnecessary.

The CAA said it had received evidence that reducing helicopter capacity through seating restrictions could have an adverse impact on vital maintenance work due to take place at offshore installations over the summer.

Head of flight operations Rob Bishton said: "The safety of those who work offshore is our absolute priority and as such we must also consider their safety on offshore installations as well as onboard flights.

"We have listened carefully to the views of the industry, the unions and the helicopter operators.

"The changes to timescales we have announced today will mean that helicopter flights will only be permitted after 1 January 2015 if passengers are fitted with the improved emergency breathing equipment - that's much earlier than originally planned.

"But we are also giving the industry an extra three months before the temporary seating restrictions are applied, so that they can complete planned, safety-critical maintenance work offshore over the summer."

'Real milestone'

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of industry body Oil and Gas UK, said: "The CAA consultation with industry has been highly constructive, prompting and accelerating the introduction of breakthrough lifesaving equipment - a real milestone for safety in the North Sea."

The new timescales were also welcomed by Step Change in Safety, a group dedicated to the safety of workers in the oil and gas industry.

Les Linklater, Step Change in Safety team leader, said: "Safety is the real winner in this for me and we have the right outcome from an overall safety perspective.

He added: "As ever, our priority remains the safety of the workforce. Today's changes will allow us to focus on improving safety offshore."

The new rules came out of a review of helicopter safety prompted by the deaths of four people when a CHC-operated Super Puma crashed into the sea off Shetland last August.

It was the fifth serious incident involving an offshore helicopter in the UK sector since 2009.

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