The Airbus Super Puma was once regarded as the “workhorse” of the North Sea oil industry. In the recent years, the helicopter has been the subject of safety concerns after a series of fatal crashes.
In April last year, a Super Puma helicopter crashed outside the island of Turøy, a municipality near Bergen, Norway. The helicopter was returning from the Gullfaks B platform and was carrying eleven Norwegians, one Briton and one Italian. This was the third fatal accident involving the aircraft in the North Sea since 2009.
The aircraft was grounded worldwide following the accident, but has now been cleared to fly by the UK and Norwegian aviation authorities.
John McColl, Head of Airworthiness in the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said the decision was only “made after receiving extensive information from the Norwegian accident investigators and being satisfied with the subsequent changes introduced by Airbus Helicopters through detailed assessment and analysis”.
He further said: “the safety of those who travel on offshore helicopter flights is a key priority…[we] would not have made this decision unless we were convinced that the changes to the helicopters and their maintenance restore the required airworthiness standards”.
Guillaume Faury, the Airbus CEO, even went as far as to fly in the aircraft in London to demonstrate that it was safe for passenger use.
The CAA said it was up to individual companies to determine whether they wanted to use the aircraft.
Since the controversial announcement, it has been reported that nine in ten offshore workers are against the return of the aircraft following a survey carried out by Oil and Gas People, a recruitment website.
Kevin Forbes, the Managing Director, said that the “aircraft operator need[ed] to think long and hard about the ramifications of returning the aircraft to service”.
Unite the Union also raised their concerns and introduced a petition known as the “Back Home Safe 2017” campaign. The petition “calls for all stakeholders to back the non-reintroduction and the permanent cessation of commercial operations in the UKCS”.
On 24 October the Scottish Parliament debated the following motion: ‘Workforce Concerns Regarding Helicopter Safety in the North Sea’. The debate was led by Labourer MSP Lewis Macdonald who highlighted the petition by Unite.
Transport and Islands Minister Humza Yousaf said that Airbus had a lot of work to do to “rebuild the trust in the Super Pumas”. He said “the passengers must have confidence that everything has been done to minimise the risk of flying over the North Sea”.
Labourer MSP Elaine Smith said the aircraft had an “unacceptable safety record” and that the facts spoke for themselves. She also said that many of the offshore workers called the aircraft a “flying coffin”.
The RMT trade union are calling for a full inquiry into the safety record of the helicopter. Mr Yousaf said that the Scottish Government was working with the Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group (OSHAG) and that he was “generally satisfied” with their progress, but was willing to discuss the inquiry.
Should the Super Puma be grounded for good? Have your say:
Airbus Helicopters Survey
Back Home Safe 2017 Petition