Norwegian Helicopter Crash (Facts and Info)

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Step Change in Safety will keep you updated with information relating to the tragic Norwegian Helicopter crash in which 11 offshore workers and two pilots died, on April 29, 2016. 

We have created a FAQ as below - you can download a copy by clicking here - please note that this FAQ will update as more information becomes available.

If you have a question regarding our facts and information please contact hssg@stepchangeinsafety.net 

Frequently Asked Questions

Step Change in Safety has, with sadness, followed the reports of the tragic helicopter crash, which killed 11 offshore oil and gas workers and two pilots, on the shoreline of Turoey on its return to Bergen, Norway.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to the families, friends and colleagues of those lost.
Since the incident the Norwegian and UK CAA have taken the decision to stop all H225 (EC225) commercial flights until more information is available. 

Updated on 5th May 2016

What was the cause of this accident?

At the moment, what caused the H225 (EC225) aircraft to crash is not known.  Eye witness accounts and some video footage suggests that the main rotorhead of the aircraft detached from the helicopter fuselage.  Norwegian investigators have said that pilot error has been ruled out and so the crash was most likely caused by a technical fault. Whether the technical fault was a result of design, manufacturing, maintenance or a combination of these factors is not yet clear – but it is important not to speculate at this sensitive time. 
We are confident that every measure will be taken to identify the root causes of the accident.

How long will the investigation take?

As in previous incidents it is very likely that more information will become available in the coming days, weeks and months.  The Norwegian Authorities, Airbus and EASA have already released a number of safety notices.  However it is very unlikely that any final detailed report, and root cause analysis, will be available soon.
As more information becomes available the regulatory bodies will advise the industry as to what changes need to be made in order to assure and verify safe flight operations going forward.  

So what is the situation regarding flights in Super Puma aircraft now?

The 225 version of the Super Puma family is not allowed to make any commercial flights at the moment in the UK and Norway, some international oil companies have taken the decision to suspend flying the H225 globally.  

Why does this keep happening? Are the crashes all linked?

In the last 10 years there have been 11 reportable helicopter incidents in the UK – three of these sadly resulted in fatalities – 2006, 2009 and 2013.  As yet, there has been no news from the investigation on possible causes, it is therefore impossible to make any assumptions regarding similarities to previous accidents and we should not speculate until we know more.
Airbus has released a statement saying they have found no link to the two 2012 H225 main rotor gearbox ditchings.  

Is the Super Puma safety record worse than other aircraft?

Based on headline safety statistics, there is no clear evidence of this. Remember, the Super Puma family comprises different variants of aircraft (L, L1, L2 and H225) and makes up the majority of the Aberdeen-based fleet.  This is the first fatal accident involving the H225.
The UKCS helicopter fleet consists of H155, H225,  AS332L2, AS365N3, S76, S92, AW139, AW189 and AH175.

Are helicopters and pilots being worked too hard? Are the helicopters being maintained enough? 

Commercial aviation is highly regulated and it is a legal requirement that all aircraft are inspected and maintained by highly skilled and qualified technicians, who are trained to the highest standards and work to the strictest safety guidelines. 
Aircraft inspection and maintenance schedules are based on hours flown and are in line with the manufacturers’ guidelines (which are approved by the CAA) to ensure safe operation. If an aircraft flies more frequently, its inspection and maintenance schedule then increases to reflect this.
A helicopter will fly for up to ten hours between inspections and most maintenance is carried out at nights and weekends. 
Pilots undergo a minimum of 170 hours flying to achieve their license and have to go through approximately 70 hours of instrument training, three months of classroom based technical study and extensive simulator training, to prepare them for a specific type of aircraft.
Pilot hours are also strictly controlled through rostering, these procedures are under set regulatory parameters based on the time of day they start flying.  Many of the international oil companies work to higher standards than the regulatory minimum.

Are some aircraft becoming too old?

All aircraft are maintained on a timed basis so an ‘old’ aircraft will actually have had many of its major components replaced throughout its life.  

Can we use other types of helicopter, other than the 225?

Just as airlines operate different aircraft from different manufacturers, so do helicopter operators. The industry flies a wide range of aircraft to complete its missions, one of which is the S92. The different characteristics of available aircraft make them appropriate for different uses. 
One common feature is that regardless of the type of helicopter the same regulations apply.

Are there any key differences between the UK and Norwegian certifications systems for helicopters and pilots?

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulates airworthiness across Europe, which in this case covers Norway. The Norwegian CAA and the UK CAA work to broadly similar regimes and certification systems. Helicopter operators and international oil companies operate to global standards.

 

Given the down turn in activity, is there now sufficient helicopter capacity to meet needs without any rota changes?

During recent months the size of industry’s workforce has contracted considerably and as such has resulted in a corresponding reduction in the number of helicopter flights. While there may be some short term disruptions as individual company’s ramp up their operational resilience plans, the consequence of the reduction in operations means that there is, in principle, a greater capacity of available airframes to cover the grounding of the H225 variant of the Super Puma.

 

What is going to happen if the UK 225s are approved for commercial flying when there are almost 25,000 thousand signatures on a petition saying the 225s should not be used for offshore support?

Whilst we are very aware of the depth of feeling it is the CAA who will determine whether it is safe to start commercial flying with the 225 again. It will then be up to individual operators to determine with their helicopter operator if and when to re-introduce the 225 for routine operations.  Step Change in Safety will continue to encourage and support workforce engagement throughout and will communicate the facts as they become available

What does it mean when a helicopter ‘goes tech’ or RTBs? 

Return to Base (RTB) is an essential part of flight safety and encompass a broad range of situations, most of which are precautionary and have no impact on safe flight operations.  The HSSG has been working to improve the communication guidance around RTBs and has collected RTB data from the helicopter operators and shared it with HSSG members and trade unions for transparency since 2012. 
An aircraft is considered ‘tech’ if the helicopter operator is not absolutely satisfied that all aspects of the aircraft are operating to the standard that is acceptable to their highly qualified, experienced engineering team, whether that be those set by the manufacturer or the further safety margins built into their maintenance programmes.
Often it can be something as simple as a bulb needs replacing or a warning on the aircraft that will then be investigated further. It may also mean an aircraft has not returned from a scheduled maintenance inspection in the timeframe expected. The vast majority of ‘tech’ events are minor in nature and most of the time taken to resolve the issue is spent in the actual accessing of the part within the airframe and the post serviceability checks that are completed before an aircraft returns to service. 

Can the HSSG provide guidance on where offshore workers stand on their right to refuse to fly and what there is to protect them from dismissal and disciplinary action?

The industry is committed to improving workforce confidence in helicopter travel.   Anyone with genuine concerns about flying will be treated sympathetically on an individual level and case by case basis.

Can I walk to work if I want to?

Unfortunately it is not as straightforward as choosing to walk to work rather than fly. In the past, walk to work has been used where there are no flight options, such as the ash cloud in 2012. There are not enough suitable vessels readily available to take everyone to the platforms. As well as this, these vessels are not suitable for the Northern North Sea conditions where sea state means it would not be practical to do this.

Has Norway implemented anything from CAP1145?

CAP1145 is a document from the UK CAA and although this was shared openly with the Norwegian CAA they do not need to follow the same schedule or undertake the same actions.  This has no bearing in regard to this incident and we believe that the improvements set out in CAP1145 are seen as a positive step to sustain safe helicopter flights and increase chances of survival.