Union officials back Airbus’ latest copter safety steps

Wreckage from the Super Puma crash in Norway, 2016.
Wreckage from the Super Puma crash in Norway, 2016.

Union officials have backed Airbus’ efforts to make its global fleet safe in the wake of a fatal Super Puma helicopter crash in Norway.

Safety checks introduced in the wake of the 2016 tragedy are being extended to certain models of aircraft currently operating in the North Sea.

Meanwhile, footage has emerged of a recent crash in South Korean, in an eerie reminder of deadly accidents in the UK.

France-based Airbus has said systems which can help detect gearbox wear and tear need to be inspected more often on the increasingly popular H175 model.

And the manufacturer has ordered the replacement of those systems on H155 helicopters, which have been used for oil rig flights in small numbers.

Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said: “Any step taken by a company to improve helicopter safety is always welcome.”

Airbus’ spokesman said the application of upgrades across its global fleet showed its “commitment to continuous improvement”.

He said the measures included the use of “improved monitoring and detection systems” and were supported by Europe’s aviation watchdog.

Thirteen people died near Bergen in April 2016 when the rotor on a Super Puma detached. Iain Stuart, 41, from Laurencekirk, was among the victims.

Super Pumas were swiftly grounded, but aviation authorities in the UK and Norway infuriated trade unions in July 2017 when they lifted the flight ban.

The watchdogs said the aircraft could not return to action until certain modifications and upgrades had been made. They are yet to return to the North Sea.

Concluding their investigation in July, Norwegian authorities said the rotor broke off due to a “fatigue fracture” in a “second stage planet gear” in the main rotor gearbox.

They said the fault was “probably” caused by tiny pieces of debris wearing away at the component.

Airbus said the crash was “unpreventable”, despite similarities with a fatal accident that killed 16 people near Peterhead seven years earlier.

Also last month, the rotor detached from a South Korean military helicopter shortly after take-off, resulting in five deaths and one injury.

The incident involved a helicopter designed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), with some gearbox components supplied by Airbus.

It is unclear whether those components contributed to the equipment failure.

A video of the incident appears to show at least one of the blades wobbling and breaking before the rotor came off.

Mr Campbell said: “Unite is very saddened to hear of the loss of life in another helicopter accident in Korea.

“In respect of the oil and gas industry, Unite is continuing with its campaign to keep the North Sea Super Puma free.”

Airbus declined to comment on the incident in South Korea.