Super Pumas grounded, despite new safety rules

A Super Puma EC225 operated by CHC Scotia.
A Super Puma EC225 operated by CHC Scotia.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) last night cleared Super Puma helicopters to fly.

The aircraft were grounded following a fatal crash off the coast of Norway earlier this year.

But the EASA move is not expected to affect a ban put in place by both the Norwegian and UK civil aviation authorities.

The air directive (AD) was implemented after a Super Puma crashed en route from Statoil’s Gullfaks B platform to Flesland Airport near Bergen on April 29.

All 11 passengers and two crew on board died, including Aberdeenshire man Iain Stuart, 41.

A rotor blade detached from the helicopter shortly before it was due to land.

A temporary flight suspension was put in place in June affecting the Super Puma EC225 LP and AS332 L2 helicopters.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said safety was a “key priority” and it would continue to work with helicopter operators, regulators, unions and pilots.

Both CHC and Bristow said they would continue with the suspension of the EC225S until they were confident the model could fly safely. Operators are working with manufacturer Airbus, HeliOffshore and their clients to evaluate their next steps.

RMT union regional organiser Jake Molloy said the move by the EASA was “premature” amid the ongoing Norwegian investigation into the crash.

Industry body Oil and Gas UK said it would await the findings of the CAA before commenting.

The helicopter will now be available for use, but a number of “stringent” measures have been included in the lifting of the suspension. They include changes to the gearbox parts involved in the accident.

All gearboxes which have suffered “unusual events” – including any which might “shock” the gearbox but not produce and visual evidence of damage – will be withdrawn from service.

Step Change in Safety pointed to feedback from the offshore workforce earlier this year which showed helicopter safety was still the number one concern for employees.

Airbus Helicopters said it was providing assistance to customers and working with stakeholders in order to help them return Super Pumas to use at an “appropriate time”.