A safety device designed to help locate offshore workers lost at sea has been issued on North Sea helicopter flights for the first time in almost a year.
Personal locator beacons (PLBs) were withdrawn from use in March last year, just weeks after a Bond EC225 Super Puma with 18 people on board ditched as it approached a BP-owned Etap production platform.
Everyone survived that accident but PLBs were found to have switched off the main beacon on the helicopter and were subsequently banned.
After an extensive redesign, the beacons returned to Aberdeen yesterday – and will be used on all helicopter flights in and out of the city from now on.
Scatsta, in Shetland, and Liverpool Bay will follow in the coming weeks once enough of the devices have been manufactured.
Nick Mair, commercial director of CHC, one of the three main helicopter operators in the city, said: “We are pleased that PLBs have been reintroduced because they are an important feature of offshore travel safety.
“The reintroduction has been a very smooth operation with all passengers receiving the additional brief prior to boarding the aircraft.”
The new devices, which are fitted to lifejackets, will automatically activate after 40 seconds in the water. They also include a button that workers can use to activate the devices manually.
Bob Keiller, chairman of the helicopter task group set up by industry body Oil and Gas UK, said the reintroduction had gone “smoothly”.
“We can confirm that personal locator beacons have successfully been reintroduced to helicopter flights leaving from Aberdeen,” he said.
“Only the co-operation between oil and gas companies, helicopter operators, regulator and the trade unions allowed us to find an adequate technical solution to ensure that the personal beacons are effective and do not interfere with other systems on board the helicopter.”
Jake Molloy, regional spokesman for the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), praised offshore companies and helicopter firms for working together.
He said: “This is a significant day for the industry, not because PLBs are being reintroduced but because it goes beyond what we had before the Etap incident.
“These devices will give confidence to offshore workers. Hopefully they will never be needed.”
The helicopter task group has overseen a redesign of the beacons and recently brokered a landmark agreement under which they will be issued to all workers on all flights for the first time.
Industry bosses had been under pressure to bring back the safety devices following the flight 85N helicopter disaster in April last year, which claimed the lives of 16 men in the North Sea off Peterhead.