LONDON Feb 20 Britain's aviation regulator said
it would impose new measures on helicopters flying to oil and
gas rigs under a plan to improve safety following several fatal
crashes in recent years.
Last August four oil rig contractors were killed when a
helicopter, manufactured by Airbus Helicopters, crashed
in the sea off Scotland's Shetland Islands, prompting Britain's
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to launch a review of helicopter
operations in the North Sea.
The CAA said that from June 1 helicopter trips in the most
severe sea conditions would be banned, while the number of
passengers allowed on-board on all flights would be restricted
until operators adopted longer term recommendations, also
published in its review on Thursday.
Passengers will need either to sit next to an emergency
window or each have emergency breathing equipment to help with
underwater survival, pending longer term upgrades to helicopter
The CAA recommended that in the future helicopter operators
modify their aircraft by fitting them with side floats and
implementing automatic flotation equipment plus additional
improvements to life rafts and jackets.
Between 1992 and 2013, there were 25 offshore helicopter
accidents in Britain, the CAA said. The crash last August was
the fifth incident in four years in the North Sea including one
in April 2009 which killed 16 people.
"The safety of those who rely on offshore helicopter flights
is our absolute priority," CAA's chairman Deirdre Hutton. "The
steps we are announcing today will result in significant
improvements in safety for those flying to and from offshore
sites in the UK and potentially worldwide."
The CAA also said there would be changes to the way pilots
are trained and proposed that an offshore oil worker
organisation provide better survival know-how for those heading
out to rigs on helicopters.
It said it would set up a new safety forum to ensure that
the new measures were put into action.
The review was carried out jointly with the Norwegian CAA
and the European Safety Agency, and was also advised by a panel
of independent experts.
Two helicopter operators, CHC Helicopter and Bond
Offshore Helicopters welcomed the CAA report.
"Airbus Helicopters will analyse all these recommendations
and will work closely with all concerned parties to implement
improvements where possible," the company said in an emailed
A spokesman for the CAA said that the new restrictions on
seating within a helicopter could represent a 15 percent
reduction in capacity if an aircraft was full.
Asked about the expense of modifying the helicopters in line
with the new recommendations, he said the CAA believed the cost
was "achievable and realistic".