September 02, 2013
Credit: Tony Osborne/AW&ST
The sobering images of wreckage floating in the waters off the Shetland Islands are a stark reminder of the dangers faced by offshore oil workers traveling by helicopter.
But the deaths of four workers following the crash of a CHC Scotia-operated Eurocopter AS332L2 Super Puma on Aug. 23 have sparked an unprecedented public outcry that could end up having a dramatic effect on both the oil and gas industry and the helicopter operators that support it.
While the flight suspension for the AS332L2 model and other variants of the Super Puma has now been lifted, almost 40,000 people have given their support to a social media campaign dubbed “Destroy the Super Pumas” set up within hours of the tragedy, calling for the removal of the aircraft and its variants from operational service in the North Sea.
The Facebook page says oil workers are fearful of flying in the type after the fifth accident involving the helicopter in four years. Two of those accidents have claimed a total of 20 lives.
Oil executives are concerned that if the campaign gains traction, the move could result in widespread disruption of oil production in the North Sea, as well as the industries that support it.
In line with a request from the Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG)—a committee formed in response to previous North Sea helicopter accidents—CHC, Bond Offshore Helicopters and the Bristow Group halted operations with the Eurocopter AS322L2 and other Super Puma variants in the U.K., including the older AS332L/L1 models and the more modern EC225, within hours of the accident.
The EC225 had been just returning to service after a nine-month halt from flight operations over water following problems with the bevel gear vertical shaft in the main gearbox.
The flight suspension on all four rotorcraft variants was eventually lifted Aug. 29 following a two-day meeting of the HSSG. However, the group says that, given the sensitivities around the accident, the AS332L2 should only initially return to non-revenue operations such as training.