Operators of helicopters in the UK sector of the North Sea will soon have to provide extra safety equipment or be forced to carry fewer passengers on each flight. Under new Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules taking effect June 1, operators can carry passengers only in seats immediately adjacent to emergency exit windows unless they install extra flotation devices or improved emergency breathing systems (EBS). The UK’s helicopter safety steering group estimates the new rule could reduce North Sea fleet seating capacity by about 40 percent.
The CAA is pressing operators to provide Category A EBS units that can be deployed under water in “a time period commensurate with likely breath hold time.” A critical issue, however, will be to find suppliers for large quantities of the Category A equipment. Given the overall seating capacity of the North Sea helicopter fleet, AIN estimates the number of EBS units required could reach 2,000. A spokesperson with EBS supplier Aqualung told AIN that delivering such a large number by June is “doable but really tight.”
The CAA itself believes implementing the measure may take one to two years. Developing and retrofitting the required extra floats, to be located on the upper fuselage, will take even longer.