Airbus stays silent on Super Puma claims

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Airbus Helicopters said yesterday it would not comment on “anonymous and unverified information” after a newspaper reported its North Sea Super Pumas may suffer from a design flaw.

French ‘copter manufacturer, whose Super Pumas Super Puma 225s have been grounded in the UK after a crash killed 13 people in Norway in April, said it had not seen the report by “aviation experts” on which the story was based.

In it, the newspaper said a “potentially catastrophic” process known as spalling – the progressive deterioration of the surface or sub-surface of a gear – could be to blame for as many as seven crashes since 1980.

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the ditching of a Super Puma helicopter in the UK North Sea in 2009, killing 16 men, concluded that spalling most likely caused a catastrophic failure of the aircraft’s main rotor gearbox.

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle made several recommendations which could impact on future helicopter design, though his FAI report contained no criticism of Airbus Helicopters.

Spalling is also suspected to have occurred before the Norwegian accident earlier this year.

Yesterday’s report, which was said to be based on a document circulating within the oil and gas industry, said spalling was an “inherent characteristic” of Super Pumas.

Action by Airbus to replace parts and beef up performance monitoring was, therefore, not enough to eliminate the problem, it added.

And it claimed aviation experts had called for a complete gearbox redesign, which would take five years to complete.

A statement from the helicopter manufacturer said: “Airbus Helicopters is not aware of the report quoted in the … article.

“We will not comment on anonymous and unverified information. Our chief priority is to support the (AIBN) Accident Investigation Board Norway as it works towards the publication of its final accident report.”

The European Aviation Safety Agency recently lifted temporary flight restrictions for Super Puma H225 and AS332 L2s, meaning it is satisfied the aircraft are safe to fly, but
flight bans in the UK and Norway are still in force.