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Grounded Super Puma helicopters set to fly again – with new warning

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A fleet of helicopters grounded after two ditching incidents in the North Sea could be back in the air by July, the manufacturer said yesterday.

Eurocopter said technical problems that have kept 16 Super Puma EC225 aircraft out of action since October last year had now been “understood”.

But the announcement came on the same day air regulators issued a new directive for crews to “immediately” ditch Super Puma EC225s if a warning light shows total loss of oil pressure.

A leading union representative said last night the developments from Eurocopter, paired with the bulletin from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), had prompted “further confusion in an already complex situation”. Investigations carried out following two ditching incidents in May and October last year led to the discovery of mechanical failures in the gearbox of the EC 225 model.

Tests also revealed problems that resulted in a false alarm being issued over a failure of the lubrication system.

In a statement issued yesterday, Eurocopter said: “Based on the findings of the investigation, Eurocopter is proposing new safety measures to the airworthiness authorities.

“Eurocopter is confident that, once the safety measures are validated by the airworthiness authorities, the first EC225s can return to full service by the end of June/middle of July 2013.”

A Eurocopter spokesman said the new measures still required the validation of air authorities.

Meanwhile, the new directive from EASA relates to the emergency lubrication system (Emlub), which is designed to guarantee 30 minutes of continued safe flight in the event of a total loss of oil pressure.

Crews will now be told to land or ditch the aircraft “immediately” as soon as the Emlub system is activated.

However, the Eurocopter spokesman said steps had already been taken to ensure the issue was addressed. He added: “The Emlub system operated correctly but indicated failure due to a wiring problem.

“The wiring on all aircraft has now been corrected. The investigation revealed that the pump may not operate to specified levels in some extreme boundaries of the flight domain.

“The capability will be restored via new sensors and glycol pump.”

The RMT union’s offshore organiser, Jake Molloy, said it was “speculation” to suggest aircraft could return to the skies by July until clearance had been given by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). On the new EASA directive, Mr Molloy said: “That suggests to me that the EASA does not have great confidence in the operation of the emergency lubrication system and are, as a consequence of that, instructing operators to put aircraft on the ground immediately.

“I would say that all of this is only going to confuse an already complex and confusing situation.”

Mr Molloy said the union would wait for a “clear and definitive directive” from the CAA.

Oil and Gas UK’s Step Change in Safety team leader, Les Linklater, said the Helicopter Safety Steering Group was “closely monitoring” progress in the EC225 investigation and would maintain dialogue with Eurocopter.

He said: “We’re encouraged by what appears to be clear signs of progress and the group will take the final decision on a return to UK offshore service, once regulatory approval deems it safe to do so.”

A spokesman for North Sea operator Bond Offshore Helicopters said: “We continue to work with Eurocopter, regulators, other operators and our customers to achieve the earliest safe return to flight for the aircraft.”

A CHC Helicopter spokeswoman added: “Eurocopter is confident it has identified root cause and contributing factors and this is now being verified by authorities.

“CHC has been maintaining appropriate flight readiness and, pending regulatory approval, we think it is possible to safely begin resumption of over-water flights in the next several weeks.”

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