In less than five years, offshore helicopter association HeliOffshore has gathered 116 member companies, including 44 operators, to work together on a number of fronts to raise the safety level of an industry that has suffered some high-profile losses at sea over the past decades. It started in October 2014 when the five largest offshore helicopter operators (Avincis, Bristow Group, CHC Helicopter, Era, and PHI) decided to stop competing on safety and formed HeliOffshore.
Gretchen Haskins was selected to lead the London-based association as CEO, having been group director of safety at the UK CAA and before that a similar role at ATC provider NATS.
Speaking to AIN ahead of Heli-Expo 2019, Haskins reflected on the achievements to date in moving toward its stated goal: no lives lost in offshore operations. Given that the key stakeholders in the oil-and-gas sector are collaborating on safety now, the association is taking a data-driven approach so it can measure safety improvements.
“We have two key work-streams: the first relating to the reliability of the helicopter itself and performance in safety-critical conditions, and the second being operational effectiveness—managing the flight path and making sure you don’t hit anything,” Haskins said.
HTAWS Parameters for Offshore Ops
“A snapshot of how HeliOffshore works is HTAWS,” added HeliOffshore communications director Charles Alcock. HeliOffshore views HTAWS (Helicopters Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems) as a key tool for driving operational effectiveness and has been “working with regulators, including the CAA, EASA, and the FAA, over the last couple of years. We believe we can optimize the warning and alerts using offshore flight paths,” said Haskins.
The organization is collaborating with OEMs, regulators, and operators to advance a new set of parameters more suited to offshore operations (rather than fixed-wing operations). Through these parameters, “we can get another 30 seconds of warning” in some cases–as shown by test pilots in simulators, Haskins said.
The OEMs have begun incorporating the new HTAWS approach in their software, and Leonardo and Airbus have already carried out flight test, said Haskins. “The first helicopters to benefit is likely to be the Leonardo AW139 midway through this year,” she said. (Leonardo is working on the AW189 too, while Airbus has been developing it for the H225 and H175, Bell hopes to incorporate it for the production-standard 525, and Sikorsky is looking at it for the S-92.)
“The specification was created with the UK CAA so it wouldn’t [belong] to any one supplier,” she said. Honeywell has been active in the development, as have other avionics suppliers such as Garmin and Thales of France. “It’s meant to be a level playing field for anyone to be able to adopt and share–it really is a joint effort,” said Haskins, who said EASA’s accident database was particularly useful in identifying which improvements would have the greatest impact on improving safety.
In addition, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers has signed a letter of intent to support the initiative.
Cooperation on Data
In addition to collaborating on HTAWS parameters, Haskins noted, “operators and manufacturers are sharing data on an unprecedented scale." HeliOffshore has identified several target areas where it can exploit this to garner better understanding, the two key ones being approach path management (APM)—leading to the creation of new APM Guidelines—and the second being flight data monitoring “to see how it’s working in the real world.”
Another major initiative for HeliOffshore is its return-to-base (RTB) study. “We want pilots to RTB if there’s any sign of a problem,” said Haskins. Because the evidence is that pilots do have good judgment on this, the main focus is on fixing the root causes to avoid scenarios that would necessitate an RTBs. “At Heli-Expo  we will have a very important conversation on actions that can be taken to design out the top RTB factors," she said.
Alcock further pointed out that HeliOffshore’s Helicopter Safety Intelligence Program is “proving very powerful as it gives a way of measuring that things are working, and helps to illustrate the business case for more people to implement the changes.”
As the oil-and-gas market recovers and the offshore helicopter fleet grows with a greater number of operations, HeliOffshore believes that incorporating some of the safety best practice from the airline world, adapted for offshore operations, can not only prevent a degradation of the accident and incident rates but completely revolutionize the level of safety experienced.
It is also about efficiency and having the operators buy-in to the real benefits. To this end HeliOffshore has been working on greater standardization of training and Flight Crew Operating Manuals as well, “another thing we have learned from the fixed-wing world,” noted Haskins. She added that the helicopter manufacturers are due to meet later this year to discuss ways to ensure pilots can more easily and efficiently transfer between helicopter types.
Haskins said HeliOffshore is also supporting in an initiative to improve crew situational awareness at sea, for example, to avoid “wrong-deck landings.” Part of this is installing low-cost ADS-B transmitters, which also allows data to be sent to helicopters about local weather, rig IDs, etc.
Heli-Expo has served as a venue to support many of the HeliOffshore initiatives. Haskins mentioned the Hazard Analysis Workshop and a Poker Night sponsored by Milestone on the eve of Heli-Expo. This is the third year for the event. The proceeds of the night (over $50,000) go to support HeliOffshore’s work with winners able to choose the specific projects. “Three years ago funds went to human factors in maintenance, and this allowed is to engage world-class experts in human factors.” A focus was to avoid errors that could lead to single-point failures, in particular taking feedback from operators. “Manufacturers love it,” said Haskins.
The Helioffshore Conference & AGM will take place May 3-6 in Athens, Greece.