Some in the support-helicopter industry believe the HSSG may well have been backed into a corner by the workers unions. By calling for the grounding of all Super Puma variants, the HSSG inadvertently associated the crashed AS332L2 model with the EC225, even though the two types are distinctly different in terms of operation and engineering. The EC225 was only grounded after investigators linked the two incidents in May and October 2012, neither of which resulted in any fatalities (AW&ST July 22, p. 51).
Only a handful of the EC225s operating from Aberdeen—the main base of the North Sea helicopter companies—have returned to operations since interim fixes were certified in July. Some of the larger oil companies have been consulting with the operators to ensure they have the capabilities to conduct the interim procedures mandated by regulators for potentially up to two years, as Eurocopter works on a permanent fix to the issue.
“There is a need to arm workers with the facts about these aircraft,” says one helicopter operator executive. “But not all the oil companies realize this.”
Oil companies and the helicopter operators fear a ripple effect not just across the North Sea, but in other areas of the world where helicopters are relied on for crew-change missions. Eurocopter, which in the days after the accident sent top executives including new CEO Guillaume Faury to Aberdeen, has been quick to point out that the AS332L2 involved in the accident was equipped with a main gearbox with a carburized vertical shaft, not a nitrided (hardened) shaft, like the one involved in the two EC225 ditchings.
Operators, trade unions and regulators will engage with the offshore workforce to “rebuild trust and confidence,” and a “sympathetic” approach will be taken with any worker who feels unable to fly, the HSSG says.