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Monday, June 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: Pilots Condemn Inquiry


The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) continues to condemn the oil industry task force examining offshore helicopter safety. The task force was inspired by the April 1 crash of a Bond Mark II Super Puma (G-REDL) that killed 16 off the coast of Scotland.

"Pilots, and specifically unions, were deliberately excluded [from the task force]," BALPA spokesperson Mick Brade told Rotor & Wing. "Invitations should have gone to all the interested parties, BALPA included. Otherwise, it is a case of the oil & gas industry talking to itself; a bit like putting the fox in charge of the chicken shed."

Brade’s comments follow earlier criticisms and defenses of the Oil & Gas U.K. task force. BALPA General Secretary Jim McAusten sniped at the task force’s credibility in April, telling the media, "What we need to do is to throw a spotlight on the oil and gas industry, who with one hand are squeezing suppliers to make huge cost reductions whilst, in the aftermath of the recent tragedy and the AAIB report, are urging more investment in safety."

Defending itself via news release, Oil and Gas U.K. quoted its chairman Malcolm Webb as saying:

"I must take exception to the suggestion that commercial pressures are undermining the safety of offshore helicopter operations... I would also like to correct an apparent misunderstanding. The membership of the new Helicopter Accident Issues Task Group, which is addressing a broad range of issues across the industry, will not be limited to the industry alone. At its first meeting held last Friday [April 17] it was agreed that trade union representatives should participate. The chairman of the task group is writing to invite their participation at the next meeting being arranged for May; and BALPA will be invited to attend."

As of May 2, BALPA had not received this invitation.

The loss of one of Bond’s Super Puma is the second worst helicopter accident in the North Sea to date. The worst occurred in 1986, when 45 lives were lost in a Chinook fatality.

The initial report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, issued on April 11, blamed the crash on a "catastrophic failure of the Super Puma’s main gear box."

"This resulted in the detachment of the main rotor head from the helicopter and was rapidly followed by main rotor blade strikes on the pylon and tail boom, which became severed from the fuselage," said the AAIB report. G-REDL fell from an altitude of 2,200 feet, hitting the water fuselage first.

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