The UK Civil Aviation Authority has released a new set of proposals aimed at improving the safety of helicopter operations to the 116 normally unattended offshore installations in the North Sea.
The proposals released at the Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group (OHSAG) build upon an independent report compiled by Cranfield University, commissioned by the CAA, aimed at providing a new strategy for operations to normally unattended offshore platforms.
According to a statement by the CAA, these proposals will be taken forward on a very short timescale by a joint industry working group, featuring the CAA, helicopter operators, offshore industry and pilot union representatives. Health and Safety Executive has also been invited to participate.
The work will focus on addressing the risk posed by fire following any incident involving a helicopter on the helideck of a normally unattended installation, where there may be no one on the rig to assist in fire suppression.
The new proposals are primarily aimed at preventing an accident or incident in the first place. This is fully in line with the group’s existing work.
An initial set of proposals have been put forward that either individually, or collectively, will meet the requirement to increase safety and survivability. These are:
- Helicopters will only be able to fly to unattended installations if they have full capability to fly safely on one engine following loss of power of its other engine.
- Helicopters will be equipped with fully crashworthy systems to reduce the risk of post impact fire.
- Changes to helidecks, such as the fitting of automatic fire fighting systems.
- The CAA said that a combination of all three of these options would be desirable. The work will be introduced in a short timescale.
An OHSAG working group will now be set up to investigate these options. The work will also tie in to ongoing OHSAG work aimed at improving pilot training and performance. This has already led to significant improvements in offshore helicopter safety, CAA has explained.
CAA Director of Safety and Airspace Mark Swan said: “The safety of the offshore flying has increased considerably over the past year. One area we want to focus on specifically is flights to unattended installations which, because there may be no one on the rig to assist following an accident, don’t have the same level of safety as manned rigs. We will therefore progress this work as a priority to ensure offshore workers flying to these installations have the highest levels of safety possible. We believe the initial proposals are both proportionate and achievable and will address the risk.”