Where’s EASA when Airbus lifts its ban on Super Puma flights, after a North Sea crash?

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After a crash one of its helicopters which suffered a catastrophic failure of its main rotor during flight, Airbus issued an advisory that owners of the Super Puma should not fly them for the immediate future. Reuters reported that subsequentlyCopetrcrash Airbus “lifted its ban” on the operation of the H-225 helicopter.  While EASA, the certificating agency has said nothing in response to this accident, the company’s statement recognizes only  that its reversal from its previous grounding order was ineffective in the United Kingdom and Norway. The obvious reason was those two governmental bodies have not lifted their prohibitions on the Super Puma flights.

In aviation regulatory terms, it is unusual for a company, rather than the relevant safety organizations, to make such a statement. Two countries and their authorities are moving forward with the accident investigation, in which EASA is also participating. None of the three safety organizations have determined that the H-225 is airworthy.

On April 29, at 10:05 a.m. local time, HKS241 took off from Bergen’s Flesland Airport, five minutes behind schedule. The helicopter Airbus H-225, also known as a Super Puma, was the equipment operating this flight. It arrived at the Gullfaks B platform on time and departed at 11:16 a.m., carrying two pilots and eleven passengers, employees and subcontractors of Norwegian oil company Statoil. It was scheduled to land back at Flesland Airport at 12:08 p.m.1h225

As the Super Puma approached Bergen, Norway, several bystanders saw it approach the coast, then they observed the main rotor detach, causing the helicopter to lose power and control. The aircraft crashed on the islet of Skitholmen between the islands of Turøy and Toftøy ; it burst into flames. The eleven passengers and two pilots perished.

puma flight

 

In response to this tragedy, the UK CAA and the CAA of Norway both suspended the authority of commercial operators of the H-225 to fly the aircraft. At the same time, Airbus Helicopters issued a notice to all of the Super Puma customers to ground all commercial passenger flights of the same model helicopters.

 

Civil-Aviation-Authority-Logo

CAANorway

The European Aviation Safety Agency is the safety authority, which issued a Type Certificate for the H-225, and its only public response (per easa.europa.eu) was the following press release:EASA-logo-700x420“Following the tragic accident of an Airbus Helicopter EC225 LN-OJF in Norway on 29 April 2016, EASA confirms that it is participating in the accident investigation led by the Accident Investigation Board Norway. The Agency is closely looking at all factual data available. EASA follows very closely the gathering of facts and will immediately decide on actions that may be needed to take at fleet level as soon as the necessary information will be available.

[emphasis added]

EASA’s participation in the process to determine cause is an ordinary predicate to a subsequent determination of the aircraft’s airworthiness, as it has done in the past with the Airbus Super Puma. These accidents were followed by accident reviews, two of which found airworthiness problems:

  • February18, 2009: G-REDU, an EC225 LP operated by Bond Offshore Helicopters. During a night visual approachto the ETAP platform, the helicopter descended and impacted the surface of the sea. The crew’s perception of the helicopter’s position and orientation relative to the platform during the final approach was erroneous. – no airworthiness issue found
  • May 10. 2012: G-REDW, an EC225 LP, carried out a controlled ditching following indications of a failure of the main gearbox (MGB) lubrication system and a subsequent failure indication warning on the emergency lubrication system. An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) identified a 360° circumferential crack in the bevel gear vertical shaft in the main gearbox, in the vicinity of a manufacturing weld, causing disengagement of the drive to both mechanical oil pumps.
  • October 22, 2012: G-CHCN, an EC225 LP of CHC Scotia, ditched in the North Sea32 miles south west of Shetland whilst en route from Aberdeen to the West Phoenix drilling rig. All 19 on board were rescued. A special bulletin issued by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said the main and standby oil pumps were not working; a 360-degree crack found on the bevel gear vertical shaft of the gearbox had prevented the oil pump gears from being driven. A worldwide grounding of the type was initiated in response.

Since the notice that EASA inspectors would go to Norway, there have been no further announcements by the agency (as of 05/02/2016).

{Several of the largest H-225, including CHC,  operators has stated that they  continue to ground the Airbus Super Puma, even after its lifting of the ban. As an indicator of the public reaction to the horrific accident, 10,000 people have petitioned that the ban should be continued.}

In contrast, two of the member states of the European agency, the two safety organizations, most directly involved in the HKS241Investigation continue to prohibit flights by the H-225.

According to multiple press releases, Airbus said that “initial evidence suggests there is no link between Friday’s crash in Norway and two North Sea accidents in 2012.” (see above).

Airbus Helicopters said “out of respect” for those affected by the accident, it would continue to stand by the decision taken by the Norwegian and UK authorities to prohibit commercial EC225 flights (the manufacturer does not have the authority to reverse such governmental action!). A company representative said: “Considering the additional information gathered during the last 48 hours, Airbus Helicopters’ decision, at this stage, is to not suspend flights of any nature for the EC225LP.”

Those are  hardly affirmative statements that the company has determined the cause of the inflight main rotor detachment and that this catastrophic failure will not repeat. Without more information than the Airbus statement, it is reasonable to say that there is no basis to prove the airworthiness of the H-225 Super Puma.

Is EASA, as the ultimate government agency responsible for the determination of this helicopter’s safety, privy to whatever Airbus has found?

⇒ If the answer to the previous question is that EASA has seen and reviewed the relevant facts on which Airbus has issued its reversal on the H-225 flight ban, has the certification authority concurred in the OEM’s airworthiness determination?

⇒ If the CAAs of the United Kingdom and Norway come to the same conclusion as Airbus, should they not lift their prohibitions on H-225 aircraft?  

⇒Or is it reasonable to assume, by the absence of any change in their grounding order,  that the primary agencies involved in the investigation do not share Airbus’ conclusion?

⇒ Might one not reasonably infer from the absence of any positive or negative statement by EASA that it does not yet concur in the Airbus declaration that H-225 flights are OK?

⇒ While it is fair to say that the designer and manufacturer of this aircraft has unique insights into its aircraft, it is generally recognized by all of the world’s aviation safety authorities that the assurances of the TC holder are not adequate.

WHY DOES EASA REMAIN SILENT in face of the Airbus declaration that it is safe to operate the H-225?

The Super Puma operates in 13 countries; the CAAs of each of those states looks to EASA for its judgment on this critical safety determination.   

ARTICLE: Airbus Helicopters lifts ban on some Super Pumas flights

 

 

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12 Comments on "Where’s EASA when Airbus lifts its ban on Super Puma flights, after a North Sea crash?"

  1. Sandy Murdock | May 3, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Reply

    EASA finally takes a position– an Emergency AD requires Super Puma operators must perform certain inspections before any flight. “This is a technical accident,” said Kare Halvorsen of the Norwegian Accident Investigation Board at a news conference Tuesday at the Haakonsvern naval base in Bergen, Norway. “This is not an accident caused by human mistakes in the helicopter.” How did Airbus lift its ban? Was it based on the same or less information? BIZARRE!
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/fatal-norway-helicopter-crash-caused-by-technical-error-1462283213

  2. Sandy Murdock | May 7, 2016 at 8:53 am | Reply

    The FAA does not hold the TC or PC for the Super Puma; according to a recent list of the H-225s, none is registered in the US. Thus, there is no regulatory basis for any FAA action.

  3. Doesn’t the UK CAA have the authority to withdraw the OpsSpecs of Super Pumas operated by UK companies?
    But the UK CAA points the finger at EASA: “Aircraft and helicopters are given safety clearance on a European-wide (rather than national) basis by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). A permanent grounding of a type of helicopter would require EASA to withdraw the helicopter’s overall approval, affecting all European Super Puma helicopters.”
    https://www.energyvoice.com/oilandgas/north-sea/109066/north-sea-helicopter-crash-caa-claims-european-watchdog-needed-ground-super-puma-flights/

  4. Alan Enders | May 11, 2016 at 8:42 am | Reply

    Sorry to have to correct you on such a basic point but there are 5 on the US register!

    • The information came from a listing of operating Super Puma’s. True, no check of the FAA registry was made. In order for the FAA to suspend the Ops Specs, they. Would have either to get information from EASA supporting such an action or assert that it had knowledge superior to the original certification authority.

  5. So returning to my point (and ignoring your deviation onto Op Specs): There are 225s in the N register, EASA has publically issued an Emergency AD, the FAA has not yet acted but you are critical of EASA… The real point is that EASA do have the ability to promptly issue an AD in the event an Unsafe Condition is identified but the FAA do not. The loss of an S-92A and 17 lives in Canada in March 2009 7 months after a similar oil loss resulted in an emergency landing perhaps also illustrates a fatal lack of regulatory agility.

    • If EASA issued an AD, the FAA need not do anything more. If you are suggesting that the FAA should do more- what and base on what facts to which the FAA has knowledge greater? If you believe that the FAA should ground the 5, are you urging EASA to do so?

  6. Alan Enders | May 12, 2016 at 3:07 am | Reply

    EASA have made a series of inspections mandatory via an Emergency AD. These are not mandatory in the US until such time an FAA AD is issued. What I would advocate is that you direct your criticism at a regulator that has not acted not the one that has. The FAA’s slow handling and backlog of foreign ADs has been the subject of attention from the Office of the Special Counsel before: https://osc.gov/PublicFiles/FY2011/DI-09-3770%20Agency%20Report.pdf

    • Tom Enders’ brother?
      In addition to EASA, FAA appears to merit some urging. The fact that OSC has found fault is not dispositive; their knowledge of aviation safety is dwarfed by their tendency to find fault with others.

      • Are you suggesting lawyers have a tendency to find fault? A little ironic.

        • OSC is not a lawyer and the note said that OSC found fault.

          The irony is that you want to find fault with lawyers, not I. Oh by the way, the legal profession is my vocation, but I am not enamoured by those who litigate crashes.

  7. Norway bans all use of Airbus Super Puma helicopter–http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/norway-bans-airbus-super/2838692.html

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