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Monday, April 1, 2013

Operators Keep Faith in EC225; Foster Courage

By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief

Eurocopter anticipates that a fix to the main gearbox issues with the EC225 will be available in April. The model was temporarily grounded after two ditching incidents in the UK’s North Sea during 2012. “We have to fix the technical issues which we are currently facing with the 225. No doubt,” said Eurocopter President & CEO Lutz Bertling during a March 5 press briefing at Heli-Expo. “This has been priority one since October, and it will continue to be: for an airframe OEM, safety always needs to be priority 1a. But 1b is fixing the EC225 issues.”

During an exclusive interview with Rotor & Wing, Avincis CEO James Drummond explained that the EC225’s return to service is not a matter of if, but when. Avincis is the parent company of Bond Offshore Helicopters, which is one of the operators that experienced an EC225 ditching in the North Sea. Eurocopter “is doing absolutely everything they possibly can to get to the root cause of this, and also to understand the propagation,” Drummond said. “We’re working closely along with the other operators to support Eurocopter in that. We’ve made available to Eurocopter and also the investigation board all the data—everything has been transparent, and that’s a vital part of the investigation and solving the problem,” he continued.

Any root cause analysis, Drummond insisted, is always complex. “If you lay it out like an issue tree, it’s a pretty big tree with lots of branches and twigs off it. Eurocopter is working very methodically through those issues. The process they’re using is very robust, and I’m sure they’ll find an answer in the end. We’ve just got to go through the process.” The EC225 “is a really good aircraft, it will return to service, it’s just a when question,” he added, pointing out the importance of being “careful and considered” when the model rejoins the fleet in order to “maintain the confidence of the operators and people who fly on it, and make sure that they are confident that the EC225 is a high-quality, airworthy helicopter, which we believe it is.”

If a healthy order book is any indication of the market’s faith in the model, then Milestone Aviation has a lot of it. The helicopter leasing company inked an order for 14 additional EC225s during Heli-Expo, adding to an existing order placed in 2012 for 16 of the type. Milestone also purchased five EC175s and 30 helicopters from Sikorsky, consisting of 23 S-92s and seven S-76Ds.

While operators are certainly feeling the impacts of the groundings, most who spoke to Rotor & Wing still view the EC225 as a long-term workhorse that is a valuable asset to their operations.

Encourage Moral Courage

Life is made up of choices—some easy, some very tough. Getting out of bed each morning is the first conscious decision of the day (and if you’re a night owl like me, that is sometimes a hard choice to make!). For pilots, mechanics and others involved in the aviation industry, go/no-go decisions can be among the most challenging to make when faced with a maintenance issue that could force a temporary grounding, due to the inherent pressure of shutting down or delaying a mission, costing the company money and lost time.

In order to create a “safety first” culture within an organization—something that is almost universally said but not as often practiced—tough decisions must be made at times to choose safety over profit and even at the expense of “getting the job done.” It’s important to highlight the times when the right choice is made. Talk with any pilot or mechanic and it’s almost a guarantee that they have a story where they “shouldn’t have done that” or who is “lucky to survive” a stupid mistake. We’re all human. But get them in front of their bosses, and those near-misses will never see the light of day. The point is that these types of stories need to be told, and organizations should foster a culture where people feel comfortable to tell their tales about close calls and mishaps—whether for attribution or anonymously.

That’s why I was happy to hear that the U.S. Transportation Safety Institute chose Bond Aviation Group as one of two winners of its first Moral Courage award (the other is USCG Alaska, see story on page 19). TSI heard about the situation at Bond from a November column in Rotor & Wing (see “Editor’s Notebook: Every Day Safety Plan” on page 4), where two technicians—Sean Newlands and John Crowthers—made a tough no-go call and as a result, were brought in front of the entire company as an example of the correct decision-making process.

Crowthers and Newlands should be commended for their actions. But it’s not just the folks who “made the right call” in this situation—the company’s leadership deserves kudos for making an example of their decision, because that will pay dividends toward creating the type of safety culture that Avincis/Bond executives are striving to foster.

Let’s hope that TSI’s newly established Moral Courage award is another step in the right direction to show others that “making the right choice” each day isn’t just a catch phrase or lip service, but an actual life-long philosophy that enters the mind second only after the decision to get out of bed each morning.

Related: Safety News

 

 

 

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