A UK Government minister has rejected calls from MPs for a full public inquiry into North Sea helicopter safety as “premature”.
Robert Goodwill said the Westminster coalition could not “at this stage” support a Piper Alpha-style probe into recent offshore crashes. He said the government would wait until ongoing investigations had been completed.
Mr Goodwill, a transport minister, was speaking at the end of a Commons debate on offshore helicopter safety secured by Aberdeen North Labour MP Frank Doran.
Mr Doran – who has been campaigning for an inquiry similar to the one led by Lord Cullen after the Piper Alpha disaster – told the minister 118 people had died in 13 helicopter incidents since 1976.
He raised concerns about “very one-sided” contracts between oil firms and helicopter operators, which he said meant prices could be cut at short notice when global oil prices fell.
“The huge imbalance between the oil and gas companies and helicopter contractors should not be allowed to prejudice safety,” he said.
He put his warning in the context of a possible future drop in oil prices following this week’s deal between world powers and Iran.
The MP questioned the role of industry regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), saying it did not seem to operate a “hands-on” approach, while insisting its practices should be reviewed within a wider inquiry.
Dame Anne Begg, Labour MP for Aberdeen South, backed the call for a full inquiry.
Eilidh Whiteford, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, said a “powerful case” had been made for a judge-led investigation and it was clear there were still concerns to be addressed.
Veteran Labour MP Tom Clarke revealed that his nephew had survived a helicopter ditching in the North Sea in 2009, so he understood the “terrible trauma” it could cause, and he said he also believed the safety issues had “still not been resolved”.
Mr Goodwill defended the CAA, describing it as the “gold standard” of international aviation authorities. “I have no doubts myself about the integrity and the safety culture which permeates the CAA,” he said.
The minister added: “The CAA is planning to publish its findings in early 2014.
“The House will therefore understand why I do not support the call for a Cullen-style public inquiry at this stage.
“The government thinks that it is premature to call for a public inquiry when the results of the ongoing AAIB investigation and CAA review are not concluded.”
The CAA will publish its findings in early 2014.