The rapid response to a crack found in a North Sea helicopter last week was a “very good example” of the inspection system working well, industry chiefs said.
But the volume of fault reports being published shows much work still needs to be done to make critical components more resilient and robust, they said at an aviation seminar in Aberdeen.
Concerns were also raised about pilot and engineer shortages in the offshore helicopter sector as the workforce ages.
Flights of Airbus H175 helicopters were temporarily “paused” when a large split was identified in the horizontal stabiliser on one of the aircraft in Aberdeen.
Airbus sent out service bulletins requiring inspections and imposing speed restrictions, while Europe’s aviation watchdog, Easa, followed up with an airworthiness directive (AD).
Trevor Stapleton – health and safety manager at Oil and Gas UK, which hosted the event at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre – said no faults were found on any other H175s in the North Sea fleet.
He said the speed restrictions had been lifted and operators had returned the aircraft to service.
Mark Swan, group director, safety and airspace regulation, at the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said the reaction to the problem being spotted was instantaneous.
Mr Swan said CAA could summon a team in just 20 minutes and that the organisation was in constant contact with the Easa.
It’s understood Easa has issued about 75 regular ADs and 20 emergency ADs in the last year, covering the 8,500 civilian helicopters operating in Europe.
A number of those ADs related to helicopters operating in the North Sea oil and gas industry.
Mr Swan said emergency ADs were “not something to be afraid of” and were a good way of showing industry was “on the ball” and can respond quickly.
But manufacturers must “get it right” when it comes to making sure components are built to last, he said, adding pilots shouldn’t be expected mitigate a design or manufacturing glitch while flying in tough conditions.
Mr Swan also lauded North Sea copter operators for having the “highest professional standards” anywhere in the world.
He added that the CAA was ready to lend its expertise and knowledge to the fatal accident inquiry to be held on the Super Puma crash off Sumburgh in 2013, which caused four deaths.
Mark Abbey, regional director at operator CHC, said one of the biggest challenges he faced was the “demographic” of helicopter pilots – the average age being about 50.
Attracting young talent is difficult due to high demand for pilots from fixed wing carriers, Mr Abbey said, adding that the offshore helicopter sector needs to show it has a bright future.