North Sea Operators Brainstorm CAA Safety Actions

 - June 3, 2014, 1:50 AM

The North Sea offshore industry held a brainstorming session in late April to examine the issues it faces with helicopter flights to and from oil and gas platforms. Although the organizers emphasized that most actions in the February CAA review (known as CAP 1145) relate to accident prevention, mitigation measures–such as emergency breathing systems (EBS) and passenger size restriction–cause the more urgent problems and accounted for a significant part of the discussion.

Ten of the 61 safety measures in the CAA review relate to mitigating accident consequences, pointed out Tim Glasspool and Alan Chesterman, co-chairs of meeting organizer the Helicopter Safety Steering Group. Among the 51 prevention measures, 25 deal with operational factors and 20 with technical failures, while six are more general. Most prevention measures are longer term, such as ensuring the reliability of maintenance interventions as early as during the aircraft certification process.

Improving EBS presents a more pressing problem. Current equipment will have to be replaced with category A EBS, which can be deployed with one hand and underwater within 12 seconds. One challenge is early availability of such devices in large numbers, prompting postponement of the first compliance deadline. But Survitec, a major supplier, has taken care of long-lead items and is setting up an additional production line, so the overall delivery schedule has been brought forward (see box).

The industry also sees the mandate for category A EBS as an opportunity to introduce an improved lifejacket for better integration. Survitec is thus offering a new design, with ergonomic features for optimum fit and more comfortable materials. A twin inflatable chamber will provide some redundancy. Survitec expected to receive EASA and CAA certification for the new equipment last month.

Deployment will likely be phased, and the new EBS could be distributed by region, operator or oil company.

Passenger Size Requirements

Another concern has been passenger size, which should be compatible with push-out emergency exits beginning in April next year. As the co-chairs put it, this can’t be decided at the check-in desk. A dedicated working group has been formed and is still in the middle of a wide-ranging study.

It has already confirmed that people have grown bigger and heavier over the last 30 years, and the combination of indoor clothing and a survival suit doubles the egress space needed.

The working group is devising a measurement procedure that will ensure compliance with the CAA requirement. It is still looking for answers to questions such as how, what, where and when to measure. A CAA official suggested that the most appropriate measure is shoulder width. The effort is turning out to be more complex than expected and the working group needs some 300 volunteers.

Window types and sizes are being explored, too. The CAA itself is waiting for operators to provide data on exit sizes by helicopter type. A trade-off could be to establish a maximum size by helicopter type, based on the smallest window on the type, the CAA official said.

CAA Changes Compliance Deadlines

The seating restrictions that the CAA had initially intended to implement beginning June 1 have been postponed to September 1. At that time passengers will be allowed to occupy only those seats next to a push-out window exit.

The CAA took into account offshore oil-and-gas industry concerns. First, reducing helicopter capacity could have had an adverse impact on safety-critical maintenance work scheduled to take place at offshore installations this summer. Second, the first improved emergency breathing systems (EBS)–which would remove the need for seating restrictions–won’t be available before mid-July. Finally, the recent certification of a redesigned gear shaft for the Airbus Helicopters EC225 means numerous helicopters will be taken out of service temporarily for retrofit.

In the second change, the date from which the improved EBS will be compulsory is brought forward significantly, to January 1 next year from April 1, 2016.