North Sea oil companies last night agreed to stop using personal locator beacons pending a full investigation into their interference with helicopter equipment.
PLBs, as they are known, are issued by oil companies to workers flying to and from rigs and platforms. They send out a signal which helps rescuers locate workers if they end up in the sea.
However, a Department of Transport Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) inquiry into the Bond helicopter crash on February 18 found the wristwatch beacon could interfere with the more powerful signal from downed aircraft and liferafts.
Last Thursday the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) banned the use of wristwatch beacons. At a special meeting organised by industry body Oil and Gas UK in Aberdeen yesterday, companies and contractors agreed to extend that ban to all other types of beacons worn by workers.
A wristwatch PLB is believed to have caused the ditched helicopter’s main beacon to shut down during the drama in the Etap field 125 miles east of Aberdeen last month.
All 18 people on board the Super Puma escaped unhurt after the flight crew became disorientated and the helicopter hit the water.
Other PLBs, such as those in lifejackets and others worn around the neck, were still in use until last night.
Oil and Gas UK spokesman Chris Allan said their use had been halted with a view to their long-term redesign. He said: “It’s likely to take a little time to find a proper technical solution and in the medium term we will look at tweaking the devices to make them compatible.
“However, looking to the long term, some redesigning may be required.”
Mr Allan stressed that the devices were not crucial for the safety of oil workers and were merely an “add-on”.
News of the beacon ban came as another offshore helicopter safety scare was resolved by swift engineering work in Scotland.
All Sikorsky S92 aircraft were grounded at the weekend amid fears they have the same gearbox problem which was blamed for a crash in the Atlantic two weeks ago that killed 17 Canadians.
The grounded aircraft included four coastguard helicopters and seven others used to transport oil workers. However, all 11 are fit to fly following emergency work.