Update on offshore helicopter safety

Circular No: NP/136/16


HO ref: S2/4 S2/6

5th May 2016

Dear Colleagues

Update on offshore helicopter safety

Further to circular no.083/16 of 8th March 2016, I write to update offshore members of the current situation regarding EC225LP Super Puma helicopters in the North Sea, following the tragic incident involving a CHC operated aircraft on Friday 29th April off the south-west coast of Norway in which eleven offshore workers and two helicopter crew lost their lives.  

Members may already be aware that the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK has reacted to this fatal incident by withdrawing all Airbus (formerly Eurocopter) Super Puma EC225LPs from commercial service in the UK Continental Shelf. This amounts to thirty helicopters and will obviously reduce the industry’s capacity to transport workers to and from installations. Air Accident Investigation Branch officials are attending the crash scene in Norway and their findings will instruct the CAA’s further decisions on the operational future of Super Pumas.
Through the union’s membership of the Helicopter Safety Steering Group (a sub-group of Step Change in Safety) and the Offshore Helicopter Safety Advisory Group (chaired by the CAA) we will continue to monitor the latest position on the EC225LP Super Pumas and keep offshore members informed of further changes and policy developments.

MPs in the RMT Parliamentary Group have also tabled Written Questions for the union to establish the terms on which UK air accident investigators are involved in the Norwegian accident investigation and to call on the UK Government to increase the regulation of commercial offshore helicopter operations.

This is the third time in recent years that the Super Puma model has been withdrawn from commercial service in the UK sector of the North Sea; the first time being in response to a series of non-fatal EC225 ditchings in 2012; and the second as a result of the fatal incident on 23 August 2013 in which four offshore workers traveling in a Eurocopter Super Puma operated by CHC lost their lives, including RMT member Sarah Darnley.   

The Offshore Co-ordinating Group (OCG – RMT, Unite, Balpa, Nautilus and GMB) has issued the following statement on the Norwegian helicopter crash:

"The Offshore Coordinating Group stands shoulder to shoulder with the Norwegian trade unions in their demand that the Puma 225 helicopter must be grounded until proof of the cause of Friday's tragic crash has been presented by the Accident Investigation Board.

"Workers in both the Norwegian and UK sectors must have genuine guarantees from regulators before flights in this aircraft can be considered. Statements from manufacturers and operators will not suffice.

"Until such guarantees are forthcoming, workers must not be forced to fly in the Puma 225. We therefore welcome the statement from Step Change in Safety to the effect that workers choosing not to fly must be treated sympathetically. The OCG and its member unions will vigorously defend any worker threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to fly.”

It is important to note that the OCG and RMT are not advising offshore workers to refuse to fly in offshore helicopters. The above statement is intended to reassure offshore workers that whatever their decision, they will have the support and protection of their union and the OCG.  
I would appreciate it if you could bring this circular to the attention of all Branch members and you will be kept updated with further developments.

Yours sincerely
Mick Cash
General Secretary