Super Puma Flights Resume, Again
Eurocopter Super Puma flights around the North Sea — temporarily suspended after the fatal Aug. 23 crash of an AS332 L2 — have resumed, along with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA’s) issuance of a statement that authorities “do not believe that the accident was caused by an airworthiness or technical problem.”
The CAA added, “We would not allow a return to service unless we were satisfied that it was safe to do so.”
The flight stoppage came just days after the North Sea fleet of Super Pumas had begun flying again after a 10-month grounding that followed two ditchings in 2012. When flights resumed in early August, authorities had said that a series of corrective actions had been performed to prevent cracking in the main gearbox bevel gear vertical shaft of affected EC225s and AS332s. Those actions restored “an acceptable level of safety” to offshore Super Puma operations, authorities said (ASW, 9/13).
The Aug. 23 accident, which killed four of the 16 passengers, was not related to the earlier ditchings, the CAA said.
The U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said in a preliminary report that the helicopter crashed into the sea about 1.5 nm (2.8 km) west of Sumburgh Airport in the Shetland Islands. It was on the third leg of a planned four-leg flight that began in Aberdeen, Scotland. The AAIB investigation was continuing.
The Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) of Step Change in Safety — a group representing North Sea helicopter operators, the energy industry, labor unions and regulators — had recommended both the temporary stoppage of Super Puma commercial passenger flights on Aug. 24 and their resumption several days later.
The HSSG said its recommendation to begin a phased-in resumption of flights — with the L2 Super Pumas initially being used only in non-passenger revenue operations — was based in part on the “confidence in the helicopters” that was expressed by regulators, the helicopter pilots’ union and the Super Puma operators.
The three North Sea helicopter operators were working with their energy company customers to “ensure the correct level of information and confidence-building communication is available, sensitive to the individual needs of the offshore workforce, before returning to full commercial passenger service,” said Les Linklater, Step Change in Safety’s team leader.
He added that a “sympathetic approach will be taken to any worker who, during this period, feels unable to fly.”
Concerns about the increasing number of safety occurrences during the landing phase have prompted development of a safety video by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to show “how easily unexpected events can dramatically increase confusion among flight crew,” the agency says.
The ATSB said aviation safety experts have identified a trend in which pilots “mishandle or mismanage their aircraft and flight profile when unexpected events arise during the approach.
“When compared to other phases of flight, the approach and landing has a substantially increased workload. Pilots and crew must continuously monitor aircraft and approach parameters and the external environment to ensure they maintain a stable approach profile and make appropriate decisions for a safe landing.”
The ATSB noted that it has investigated a number of occurrences in recent years involving problems during approach to landing, including a hard landing by a Boeing 717-200 in Darwin in 2008, a stickshaker activation during a 717-200’s manually flown approach to Alice Springs in 2008, a Bombardier DHC-8’s unstable approach in Sydney in 2011 and a go-around by an Airbus A321 in Melbourne in 2007.
ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said the agency’s investigations found that “poor communication and lack of role clarification were worryingly common.”
The ATSB added, “Good communication is vital. If there is any confusion or uncertainty, clarify the situation and take timely action to rectify any deviations before they become a problem. If there is any doubt about the safety of the aircraft, conducting a go-around is a perfectly legitimate option. Safety trumps scheduling or dignity.”
Citing a number of weather-related aircraft accidents in Hawaii and mountain passes in the continental United States, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending installation of weather cameras in safety-critical areas.
The NTSB called on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install the cameras at selected locations, establish public access to their real-time images and train flight service station specialists in providing verbal preflight and en route briefings that incorporate the images.
The NTSB said it has investigated numerous accidents in Hawaii since 1997 that involved aircraft — primarily helicopters and small general aviation airplanes but also larger air taxi airplanes — that encountered instrument meteorological conditions or other adverse weather conditions. Accurate and current weather images could help pilots with weather-related flight planning issues, the agency said.
An existing program in Alaska has installed weather cameras in 185 locations, the NTSB said. That effort allows pilots and flight dispatchers to “review aviation weather camera images and cancel a flight based on information regarding possible poor weather conditions en route or at their destination, helping the pilot avoid a potentially hazardous situation or to avoid starting on a mission that the pilot will not be able to complete.”
The NTSB cited FAA estimates that the Alaska Aviation Camera Program has “coincided with and contributed to a 53 percent decrease in the weather-related aviation accident rate in Alaska.”
Considering the effectiveness of the program in Alaska, the NTSB added, a similar program would be expected to significantly improve aviation safety in Hawaii.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun enforcing certain workplace safety regulations for aircraft cabin crewmembers.
“While the FAA’s [U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s] aviation safety regulations take precedence, OSHA will be able to enforce certain occupational safety and health standards not covered by FAA oversight,” the FAA said in announcing the development, effective in late September.
Among the issues under OSHA jurisdiction are exposure to hazardous chemicals and blood-borne pathogens, hearing-conservation programs and rules on access to employee exposure and medical records.
The FAA and OSHA will work together to ensure that workplace safety regulation will not have an adverse effect on aviation safety, the agencies said.
“This policy … will enhance the safety of cabin crewmembers and passengers alike,” said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. “It is imperative that cabin crewmembers have the same level of safety assurances they provide the public.”
Upgrading Air Ambulance Standards
Air ambulance flights should be held to higher standards, “given the passenger-carrying nature of their operations,” the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia (CASA) says.
A new CASA proposal calls for air ambulance flights to be covered by aviation safety regulations that govern passenger transport operations. The flights are now governed by aerial work regulations.
The change would result in enhanced training and checking for pilots of air ambulance flights, stricter aircraft equipment requirements, specific fatigue risk management standards for pilots and increased flexibility for some operations, CASA says.
The agency planned to accept public comments on the proposed change until late September.
As part of their study of helicopter crash survivability, research engineers at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) dropped the fuselage of an old U.S. Marine Corps Boeing Vertol CH-46E Sea Knight from 30 ft to observe the effects on improved seats and seatbelts.
The researchers used cables to lift the 45-ft-long (14-m-long) fuselage — with 15 crash-dummy occupants — into the air, then swing it forward. Pyrotechnic devices were used to separate the cables, allowing the fuselage a brief period of free flight before it hit a bed of soil while traveling about 30 mph (26 kt).
The test — a collaboration involving NASA, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy — was conducted at the NASA Langley Research Center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia. It was designed to simulate a “severe but survivable crash,” lead test engineer Martin Annett said.
“The fuselage hit hard,” the facility said in describing the test. “Thirteen instrumented crash-test dummies and two un-instrumented manikins had a rough ride, as did some of the 40 cameras mounted inside and outside the fuselage.”
The facility said preliminary indications were that the test produced good data, which will be analyzed over several months.
“High-speed cameras filming at 500 images per second tracked each black dot [on the helicopter’s black-and-white speckled fuselage], so after everything is over, we can plot exactly how the fuselage reacted structurally to the test,” test engineer Justin Littell said.
A similar helicopter — equipped with additional technology, including what the facility described as “high-performance, lightweight composite airframe retrofits” — will be used in another crash test in mid-2014.
Results from both crash tests will be used in efforts to improve helicopter performance and efficiency, as well as to improve helicopter safety features, the facility said.
“The ultimate goal of NASA’s rotary wing research is to help make helicopters and other vertical takeoff and landing vehicles more serviceable — able to carry more passengers and cargo — quicker, quieter, safer and greener, and lead to more extensive use in the airspace system,” the facility added.
In Other News …
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has begun using its en route automation modernization system at least part-time at 16 sites, but as the system is expanded to busier facilities, software-related problems could result in extra costs and schedule delays, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General. … Tony Tyler, the director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association, blames “lack of political will to push states to unify the European airspace” for delays in implementing the Single European Sky, which European authorities predict will enable a 10-fold increase in aviation safety.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.