Unions to meet Scottish Government to rally support for helicopter inquiry

Mothballed Super Pumas
Babcock has been working to sell or repurpose its fleet of Super Puma helicopters.

Unions will meet with Scottish Government ministers next month to rally support for a wide-ranging inquiry into offshore helicopter safety.

The Offshore Coordinating Group (OCG) – which comprises several unions including Unite and RMT – along with North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, will meet with transport minister Michael Matheson and energy minister Paul Wheelhouse on September 5.

It comes after a crash involving a Super Puma 225 helicopter off the Norwegian island of Turoy in 2016, which killed 13 people including Iain Stuart from Laurencekirk.

The OCG and Mr Macdonald are aiming for a “wide-ranging inquiry” into workforce confidence, technical issues and whether commercial pressures are being brought to bear.

The group is seeking Holyrood support to put pressure on the UK Government to carry out the inquiry.

They met with Mr Matheson’s predecessor Humza Yousaf earlier this year, and Mr Macdonald is expecting the Scottish Government to lay out its conclusions on September 5.

He said: “The case for an inquiry stands on its own merits. At the end of the day it is UK ministers that have to be convinced.

“The more people saying the same thing the better, that’s why we’re keen to get the Scottish Government on board.

“It’s not essential but it will certainly be very helpful.

“The debate last year was on the Super Puma but the issue of future transport is not just about the one aircraft.”

The Super Puma model was grounded in the aftermath of the tragedy and, despite this since being lifted, has not returned to operation in the North Sea.

Investigators of the Turoy Super Puma crash last month found a rotor broke off due to a fatigue failure in the main rotor gearbox.

A Super Puma crash off Peterhead in 2009, which resulted in 16 deaths, was caused by a fault with the same component.

Despite this, helicopter maker Airbus said it could not have prevented the Norway tragedy.

A debate was held in the Scottish Parliament in October on helicopter safety after unions branded the Super Puma as “flying coffins”.

The OCG has repeatedly said the workforce has lost all confidence in the Super Puma aircraft, and Mr Macdonald said worker’s need to be able to trust the aircraft they fly in.

Mr Macdonald added: “If (the inquiry) is wide-ranging it will consider commercial pressure, technical issues and workforce concerns.

“It is important that the people who rely on the service can have confidence in it. That’s the most important thing for the future of the North Sea, that’s really what underlines this.

“Questions have to be asked about the regulatory and commercial environment.”

Unite regional officer and chairman of the OCG Tommy Campbell said the unions will keep up the pressure for a full inquiry.

He said: “The bottom line is the workforce are the passengers.

“The trade unions that represent the workforce will hold the line of both sides of the continental shelf. We will continue to campaign.

“We need support from the Scottish Government for this public inquiry to be held.”