Regulatory Perspectives on the Super Puma Helicopter Crash
Valid Views, But a Split of Opinions
It is rare when the aviation authority which certificated an aircraft issues an order allowing operators to fly and when the CAAs involved in the accident and in the operations of the same vehicle defer such a decision.
Here is the history of this curious case:
I. Five months ago, it was noted that:
Where’s EASA when Airbus lifts its ban on Super Puma flights, after a North Sea crash?
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.
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.
On 7 October 2016 the decision to lift the temporary flight suspension of the Super Puma EC225 LP and AS332 L2 helicopters from Airbus Helicopters put in place on 2 June 2016 following the crash of an EC225 LP helicopter in Norway on 29 April 2016. The set of very stringent protective measures which enable the decision to allow these type of helicopters to return to flight include:
- The elimination of a specific type (Type A) of 2nd stage main gearbox planet gear involved in the accident by another type (Type B) which has a demonstrated reliable service life.
- An additional safety factor applied to the demonstrated service life of this gear type (Type B), resulting in the time before replacement being reduced to less than half its current value.
- The daily inspection or after 10 flight hours (whichever comes first) of the chip detectors, and every 10 flight hours oil filter with very stringent criteria.
All main gearboxes that have suffered from unusual events will be withdrawn from service. Unusual events include external events that might shock the gearbox but without visual evidence of damage.
EASA has been closely monitoring the analysis and tests conducted by Airbus Helicopters. We maintain our full support to the investigation led by the Accident Investigation Bureau of Norway (AIBN) for the accident. This action continues to address the initial safety recommendation on EASA and we will address any further recommendations addressed to EASA.
EASA will closely monitor the compliance action taken by the helicopter manufacturer and operators following the return to service along with operational information.
We will continue to work with the helicopter manufacturer, international regulators and national aviation authorities, offshore operators, to ensure that the highest possible safety standards always prevail.
Following the release today by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) of proposals to allow the return to service of Airbus Helicopters’ Super Puma EC225LP and AS332L2, the UK Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that its existing restriction, prohibiting all commercial flying of this type by UK operators, is to remain in place.
The Super Puma helicopter accident in Norway on Friday 29 April is still under investigation by the Norwegian authorities and we remain in close contact with all offshore helicopter operators to continue to assess the situation.
We are united in our approach with the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority. Both agencies now await further information from the accident investigation before considering any future action.
The safety of those who travel on offshore helicopter flights is a key priority. That’s why in 2014 the Civil Aviation Authority launched a comprehensive review of offshore helicopter flying, resulting in significant changes in safety that were welcomed by everyone involved.
We will continue to work with the helicopter operators, the offshore industries, international regulators, unions and pilot representatives to enhance offshore safety standards still further.
The CAA has in common with the British Aviation Authority decided that it still is a flygeforbud for the helicopter AS332L2 and EC225LP types until further notice. This decision follows after Europe’s air safety agency EASA today decided to again allow the use of helicopters and Airbus EC225LP AS332L2 Super Puma. The ban on the flying of these helicopter types in Norway will be maintained until further notice. This is a decision that the CAA has taken in consultation with the British aviation authorities. The CAA is awaiting the Government’s casualty Commission for transportation (SHT) their investigation of the accident with the Super Puma helicopter by Turøy 29. April.
Luftfartstilsynet avventer Statens havarikommisjon for transport (SHT) sine undersøkelser av ulykken med Super Puma helikopteret ved Turøy 29. april.
EASA has special, but not unique, knowledge of the engineering design of the Super Puma. That participation in the certification provides insights into the helicopter’s engine and in that role, it also has direct access to its operating history.
The CAAs of the UK and Norway have surveilled the operation of this aircraft. That regulatory oversight is a window to how this helicopter flies in the conditions associated with offshore drilling.
All three organizations have been furnished with the specifics of Airbus’ proposed alterations to fix the gearbox planet gear which failed. EASA has accepted those changes and has issued a tightly prescribed authorization to permit flights. That decision has been voided by the UK CAA and Luftfartstilsynet; the Super Puma’s under the jurisdiction may not operate. Both of the authorities with jurisdiction over the companies flying the helicopters have decided to wait until the accident investigation.
The two different views are both valid. It will be interesting to see what happens with this split of opinions. After the fact analysis is easier to make, but hindsight is not a luxury which any of these authorities are afforded.