The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have undertaken a review of North Sea helicopter operations, findings of which were published on 20th February 2014.

The review was undertaken with engagement from trade unions, the oil and gas industry, helicopter operators, manufacturers, government, regulatory bodies and other experts in the field.

Dame Deirdre Hutton (CAA Chair) said of the review,

“The safety of those who rely on offshore helicopter flights is our absolute priority. The steps we are announcing today will result in significant improvements in safety for those flying to and from offshore sites in the UK and potentially worldwide.”

“We expect helicopter operators, the oil and gas industry and EASA to move forward with recommendations to them as soon as possible.”

A summary of the report can be read below, and the full report can be accessed on the CAA website.

The new measures include:

  • 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
  • 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)
  • Requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment to increase underwater survival time unless the helicopter is equipped with side floats
  • Important changes to the way pilots are trained and checked.
  • Approval CAA of each offshore helideck by CAA, ensuring they meet strict safety standards.
  • Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) is expected to improve survival training for offshore workers.

As well as the above the report makes the following recommendations to EASA:

  1. enhancing the safety of helicopters
  2. establishing a review of offshore helicopter accidents and incidents with national aviation organisations, such as the CAA, to highlight safety issues and develop remedies
  3. the development of standardised helicopter operating information for pilots.

The CAA also detailed the following changes it expects UK helicopter operators to make to helicopters and survival equipment:

  1. Fitting side floats
  2. Implementing automatic flotation equipment
  3. Adding hand holds next to push out windows
  4. Improvements to life rafts and lifejackets

Following the review a safety forum has been established within the CAA to “actively promote delivery of the recommendations and publicly report on progress”.