The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced a series of safety measures for offshore oil and gas-related helicopter flights at British North Sea facilities. This comes after a full review of safety that was promoted by a scottish accident last august that killed four. The measures include a number of permanent and temporary requirements. Some could dramatically change the way offshore flights are handled.
- Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions, so that the chance of a ditched helicopter capsizing is reduced and a rescue can be safely undertaken
- Requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment to increase underwater survival time unless the helicopter is equipped with side floats
- Over time, the CAA expects helicopter companies to make improvements to helicopters and survival equipment including:
• Fitting side floats
• Implementing automatic flotation equipment
• Adding hand holds next to push out windows
• Improvements to life rafts and lifejackets
- The CAA will begin approving helidecks.
- Pending further safety improvements to helicopters, passengers will only be able to fly if they are seated next to an emergency window exit to make it easier to get out of a helicopter in an emergency (unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices or passengers are provided with better emergency breathing systems).
Will these recommendations make their way into U.S. regulations on helicopters? Only time will tell, but there is one part that could most definitely affect U.S. offshore oil and gas. The CAA wants the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) to enhance the quality and frequency of helicopter training given to oilfield workers. That may include:
- training workers to escape from a small window, rather than the standard size used now.
- seeking more input from training providers in developing standards.
Significantly, the CAA says OPITO should enhance training frequency, but it does not recommend specific refresher durations.
The CAA expects OPITO to act by the fourth quarter of this year. This could impact U.S. operations because many HUET courses taught in the U.S. follow OPITO standards. So a change overseas is likely to change the way U.S. providers teach OPITO courses. Over time it could also change the way non-OPITO HUET is taught because of the way some oil companies will require a certain certification 0r the equivalent. In the past, those sorts of equivalency requirements have resulted in other providers increasing their standards as well.