On July 20, regulators in the UK and Norway lifted the grounding of Airbus Helicopters H225s; however, two of the large fleet operators of the type have no plans to do so, their CEOs told analysts during separate conference calls last month.
ERA Group CEO Chris Bradshaw said, “While the regulators have issued their directives permitting the return to service, we believe H225 helicopters have returned to service in only a few countries in Asia. Beyond regulatory approval and the completion of the accident investigation, the other key milestones for potential broad-based return to service of these helicopters include confidence among the helicopter operators, our oil-and-gas customers and the labor unions representing their employees. ERA will not operate the H225s in our fleet unless and until we can develop a detailed safety case that demonstrates that the aircraft can be operated safety. As previously disclosed, ERA filed a lawsuit in November last year seeking damages from Airbus related to our purchase of H225s. We cannot predict the ultimate outcome of the litigation and we might spend significant resources pursuing our legal remedies against Airbus.” According to company filings, ERA has nine H225s.
That lawsuit charges Airbus with systematic fraud in marketing the H225 as a safe helicopter and accuses Airbus of offering it for sale with known design defects. Airbus has denied the charges. The company is also being sued separately on the H225 by ECN Capital and Wells Fargo Bank. The charges of design defects stem from the fatal crash of an H225 near Turoy, Norway, in April last year in which the main rotor hub and blades detached in flight, a failure investigators ascribe to a damaged second-stage main planet gear. The root cause of the gear damage remains under investigation by the Acccident Investigation Board of Norway (AIBN), which has yet to issue its final accident report.
Bristow Group CEO Jonathan Baliff echoed much of Bradshaw's sentiments, saying, “Aircraft operations with our 27 H225s remain suspended globally. Bristow is going to be very cautious, very deliberate and very methodical as we develop and implement a return to service, or RTS, for the H225. We will complete an extensive safety case before any flight takes place, even test flights. And we are committed to collaborating with HeliOffshore, our clients and our passengers and their unions as part of any RTS plan.”
Baliff said, “There is not a lot of demand for the H225 to conduct offshore transportation missions, mostly because of macro oil and gas marketing conditions, and the understandable concern about the aircraft in transport mode by our oil-and-gas clients, especially in the North Sea.” He said Bristow's immediate priority with the type is readying four H225s for test flights as part of a planned lease return, adding that the company is keeping its options open with regard to seeking a cure from Airbus. “When it comes to Airbus we continue to monitor all litigation and are exploring all options with that company.”
For its part, HeliOffshore said it is “liaising with technical experts from our member operators with a view to carefully considering all data provided to the UK and Norwegian authorities in support of their decision to lift operating restrictions on the Super Puma. The association will use its proven tools and collaborative approach to enhancing safety to give operators the solid technical foundation they need for making their individual operational safety decisions.”