After more than two years of investigation, the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) report into the fatal Sumburgh helicopter crash has been published. The comprehensive and sobering report highlights progress in offshore helicopter safety since the incident but also contains a further 26 recommendations.
These recommendations focus on keeping the aircraft in the air, and are directed towards better pilot training, systems monitoring, standard operating procedures and aircraft operating manuals. This is critical to addressing the root cause of the Sumburgh crash and much work has already been done by helicopter operators and manufacturers to improve this.
There are also recommendations for changes to helicopter design, evacuation and passenger training focusing on improving survivability if a helicopter does ditch or crash into water.
One of the biggest recommendations from the AAIB report is that large helicopters used in offshore transportation should be fitted or retrofitted with a side-floating capability. This would mean that a helicopter would retain an air pocket in the cabin in the event of a capsize after impact with water or ditching. This is certainly not a short term or simple change and could take some time for this recommendation to be realised.
Additionally, it advises that image recorders are installed in the cockpits and cabins of offshore aircraft that are fitted with Flight Data Recorders and Cockpit Voice Recorders so that the industry can better learn from tragic events such as this.
EASA (the European regulator) has also been recommended to outline minimum size limitations for all removable exits in a helicopter. This is an extension to the passenger size work which was done throughout 2015 in response to CAP1145 where over 80,000 offshore workers had their shoulders measured to make sure they are compatible with exits.
AAIB proposes that research into evacuation and survivability of passengers in commercial helicopters travelling offshore is done to support new regulations. It is hoped that this research will help to further understand underwater evacuation in a more realistic environment and give passengers the best possible standard of training.
Finally, the AAIB report recommends that EASA changes the training requirements for passengers and crew travelling offshore by setting out a minimum standard of training. However, it is important to note that surviving passengers interviewed, highlighted how their survival training aided their successful evacuation from the helicopter on August 13th 2013.
Regardless of the merit of the recommendations, AAIB do not have the power to mandate to EASA or CAA and there is no guarantee that some of these recommendations ever become realised.
Nothing can change what happened near Sumburgh Airport in 2013 and the tragic loss of four of our colleagues. This AAIB report will further improve helicopter travel in the UK offshore industry and help us to work together to continuously improve our safety performance.