Tragedy in Norway

When news first broke of a helicopter crash near the Norwegian city of Bergen on 29 April, it almost seemed an added cruel twist when it was confirmed the aircraft involved was an EC225.

While first and foremost a tragedy for the families of the 13 passengers and crew that lost their lives, the accident will have come as a massive blow to manufacturer Airbus Helicopters, given the recent history surrounding the Super Puma family.

You can read our account of the accident here but from initial accounts it seems the aircraft’s main rotor had become detached in the moments before the accident – the video that appears to show the detached rotor in flight makes chilling viewing.

H225 rotor

Following a spate of incidents with the Super Puma family in the North Sea in the past seven or eight years, it was inevitable that there would be a public outcry following this latest accident.

A petition appealing to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority to ‘remove the Super Puma from service’ has gathered 25,000 signatures at the time of writing, mirroring a similar Facebook page created after the 2013 Sumburgh crash.

For oil and gas workers who have to travel to work by helicopter on a regular basis, and who feel they have no choice but to fly on the Super Puma – whether it is the H225 or AS332 – or lose their jobs, any widespread perception the type is fundamentally unsafe clearly makes for a difficult working environment.

Nevertheless, the community needs to take stock before damning the Super Puma and Airbus Helicopters altogether.

While a design fault with the main gear box was the cause of two ditchings in 2012, this has now been rectified, and the previous crash causing fatalities – the 2013 crash at Sumburgh – was attributed to the pilots not following standard operating procedures.

This latest incident may be more closely related to the 2009 crash of a Bond AS332L2 Super Puma, which killed all 16 people aboard and the investigation found was caused by main rotor separation following a catastrophic gearbox failure.

Aligned to the lack of a common cause linking all the accidents since 2009, it should be remembered the Super Puma family has accumulated more than 5 million flight hours to date, the family racking up 240,000 flight hours in 2014 alone.

When news emerged of the crash in Norway, I was preparing a feature on the H225 Safety Partnership and maturity programme, which will examine efforts to improve safety, ease the maintenance burden and improve availability.

While this latest tragedy will undoubtedly cast a long shadow, there is no denying the safety improvements that have taken place to date and the willingness of everyone across industry to get this right.

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