Major changes to improve the safety of North Sea helicopter operations, including prohibiting flights in the most severe conditions, have been announced by aviation regulators.
The changes include amendments to the seating of passengers, improved breathing equipment, changes to pilots’ training and equipment improvements.
Announced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the measures follow a series of North Sea helicopter crashes in recent years including last August’s Super Puma tragedy in which four people died and the April 2009 Super Puma disaster which claimed 16 lives.
The changes are the result of a comprehensive review of offshore helicopter operations undertaken in conjunction with the Norwegian CAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and advised by a panel of independent experts.
The measures include:
Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions, so that the chance of a ditched helicopter capsizing is reduced and a rescue can be safely undertaken;
Pending further safety improvements to helicopters, passengers will only be able to fly if they are seated next to an emergency window exit to make it easier to get out of a helicopter in an emergency (unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices or passengers are provided with better emergency breathing systems);
Requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment to increase underwater survival time unless the helicopter is equipped with side floats.
Also, there will be important changes to the way pilots are trained and checked. And the CAA will take on the role of approving each offshore helideck, ensuring they meet strict safety standards.
The CAA has also made a number of recommendations to EASA, as the regulator for helicopter certification and airworthiness.